Helping Community-college Students Complete Degrees

  • Prosperity
  • 2009

Since the mid-twentieth century, community colleges scattered all across America have filled an important role in training workers to fill positions in their regional economies (see also the 1960 entry later in this section). In the twenty-first century, philanthropic support for community colleges continues to be strong.

For instance, the Gates Foundation made a $17 million grant in 2009 to strengthen remedial programs and student retention at 15 community colleges. In 2010, the foundation unveiled a $35 million investment to increase course-completion and graduation rates. “These are the schools that enroll the majority of low-income students,” said Melinda Gates in announcing the effort. “Community colleges have untapped potential for getting students the credentials they need to earn a living wage.” The Gates Foundation has allotted nearly half a billion dollars for spending in this area during the next two decades.

Bill & Melinda Gates have many philanthropic colleagues in this work. The Bernard Osher Foundation, for example, announced a $70 million grant in 2008 to bolster community colleges in California. Noting that only about half of the students who enroll in two-year colleges today end up with a degree, the Lumina Foundation made a $75 million commitment, to which the Gates Foundation and other donors made supplemental pledges, to launch a ten-year effort to improve the community-college experience. They partnered with dozens of colleges to research students’ reasons for dropping out, reduce that rate, and strengthen the institutions. Since 2011 there has been a national prize, funded by the Lumina, Joyce, and Kresge foundations and Bank of America, administered by the Aspen Institute, which awards $1 million every second year to community colleges that have done the most to increase learning, graduation rates, and the hiring and earning levels of their students.