Gates Grants to Help Cities Boost College Completion

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Four cities will receive $3 million each to develop innovative approaches to increase their college graduates rates, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the National League of Cities announced Monday.

New York, San Francisco, Mesa, Ariz., and Riverside, Calif., will use the grants for such measures as better support systems for students, employer-supported degree paths, tracking student achievement in college and early assessment and college preparation strategies.

Each city pledged to increase graduation rates by specific percentages. San Francisco, for example, will aim to increase the college completion rates of its high school freshmen from 30 percent to 50 percent. The City University of New York will seek to double its completion rates for associate degrees by, for example, aligning its academic standards with the city’s public schools, and creating a longitudinal tracking system to analyze student outcomes.

The cities are clearly in need of help: In California, Riverside City College reports a graduation rate of 14 percent. In Arizona, only 5.4 percent of the low-income students who graduate from Mesa’s public schools and go on to Mesa Community College graduate from that college.

One objective, said Mesa Mayor Scott Smith, is to make the transition from high school to higher education “as seamless as the transition from middle school to high school.”

In announcing the grants, Hilary Pennington, who leads the Gates Foundation’s Postsecondary Education initiative, said the grantees each stood out for their willingness to set measureable goals, to realign government systems, and to build commitment and leadership from stakeholders throughout their communities.

The League of Cities serves as the “managing intermediary” for the project.

The grants are for three years each.