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Gates Directs Extra $34.8M to Community College Reform

The string of gifts to community colleges from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation continues this week.

On Tuesday, Melinda Gates plans to announce that the foundation will be pouring $34.8 million into competitive grants for groups of community colleges that are willing to come up with new approaches to make schools more responsive to students.

The new program, Completion by Design, is a five-year effort to increase the proportion of and pace by which low-income young adults progress to postsecondary credentials and degree completion.

The program "aims to get community colleges to restructure how they interact with the majority of their students, from the moment they enter the college to the time they graduate, to provide them with the quickest, straightest path to a degree," said Hilary Pennington, director of education, postsecondary success at the Gates Foundation. "When that happens, more students finish with a degree, certificate, or credential in hand."

Public two-year colleges with governing authority over at least two campuses or colleges in the following nine states have been invited to apply for grants: Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas and Washington. The grantees are expected, in particular, to develop innovative ways to address the needs of low-income students through financial aid counseling, course scheduling, and advising.

The new grants are just the latest Gates Foundation investment in community college reform. Last week, the foundation announced $12 million in grants to four cities to improve college completion rates. In April, the foundation, pledged $100 million to improve remedial programs at community colleges.

Melinda Gates is expected to discuss the Completion by Design grants at Tuesday's White House Community College Summit, hosted by Jill Biden, a community college instructor and wife of Vice President Joe Biden. The summit will bring together leaders from higher education, philanthropy, business and policy to discuss what's working in community colleges and where those colleges can improve.

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