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MTV and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Announce New Joint Effort to Empower Young People to Graduate from High School Ready for College

Plans are part of “think MTV: Education,” a component of network’s new initiative on pro-social issues

New joint poll reveals a stark “ambition gap” between young people’s college dreams and reality

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Janine Iamunno   
MTV Communications  
Phone: 212.846.6992  

NEW YORK -- MTV: Music Television and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation today announced a new joint effort aimed at raising young people’s awareness of the importance of graduating from high school ready for college. Also announced today is the first element of this joint effort, a new poll conducted by CBS News on behalf of MTV, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the National Governors Association (NGA). The poll reveals a disheartening disconnect between the ambitions young people have to go to college, and the reality that most never make it—what is being dubbed “The Ambition Gap.”

Low high school graduation rates and a growing awareness of the convergence of skills necessary for college and the workplace have helped build national momentum for high school reform. Nearly one-third of all high school students fail to graduate, and of those who do graduate, close to half will not have the knowledge or skills they need for success in college.*

“We’re thrilled that MTV is getting the message out, having this told through the eyes of the kids themselves. And we think it can make a huge difference,” commented Bill Gates, co-founder, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, in an exclusive interview with MTV News earlier this year. “As students expect more, it actually helps the system to change. It’s not only great for those kids but this whole momentum we want to build about having great high schools —[young people] can be part of what helps that happen.”

As part of think MTV: Education, MTV will inform millions of young people, with an emphasis on low-income and minority students, on key facts about the importance of graduating from high school, and provide resources on how to prepare for and gain access to college.

“Young people have repeatedly told us that education is one of the most crucial concerns they face,” added Ian Rowe, VP of public affairs for MTV. “They believe in the dream—and the necessity—of a college degree, but the reality is that the overwhelming majority of young Americans, especially poor and minority students, do not graduate from high school prepared for college or work—or do not graduate from high school at all. This new effort will provide millions of young people with the tools to help fulfill their aspirations to succeed in college."

“The voice of the students too often has been missing in this conversation about high school reform that has been going on among the experts and policymakers,” said Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, whose yearlong initiative as chairman of NGA has focused on Redesigning the American High School. “Their input will help us frame the discussion so high school students can graduate prepared for their future, whether that be college or a high-skilled job.”

The new poll** released today reveals “The Ambition Gap” as follows:

  • Ambition: According to the poll conducted by CBS News on behalf of MTV, the Gates Foundation, and the NGA, 76 percent of all young people see a college degree as necessary for getting ahead in life.
  • Gap: According to a 2005 report from the Manhattan Institute, only 32 percent of American high school students will graduate from high school with the skills they need to succeed in college or work.
  • Ambition: The new poll indicates that 87 percent of all young people across all races and income levels say they would like to get a degree from a 4-year college.
  • Gap: According to a 2004 report from the U.S. Census Bureau, only 30 percent of 25-29- year-olds have earned a college degree, including only 17 percent of African Americans and 11 percent of Hispanics.

think MTV: Education will elevate young people's awareness of this "ambition gap" and offer young people access to information and resources to enable them to close it. The effort includes on-air programming including public service announcements and MTV News reports on important education issues; and online resources, at, on topics such as financial aid, preparation for college entrance exams, how to find a college or career, and ways young people can take action on their education.

think MTV is the network’s new pro-social initiative to empower young people on the issues they care about most. MTV will air longform specials; MTV News reports, PSAs, and other special programming dedicated to these issues, including education, sexual health, discrimination, the environment, and global concerns. A think MTV icon will appear onscreen during programming that has an online counterpart; the think section of will offer a range of opportunities for young people to learn about and engage on critical issues at the local or national level. On every page within the site, young people can search for local volunteer opportunities, contact their political representatives, and register to vote. Additional online partners include a range of non-profit organizations that aim to inform and motivate young people to get involved in issues of concern.

This effort is part of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s commitment to raise the nation’s high school graduation rates. To date, the foundation has invested more than $1 billion to improve high schools, including support of more than 1,500 high-quality high schools in 40 states and the District of Columbia.


* Public High School Graduation and College-Readiness Rates: 1991–2002; February, 2005, Manhattan Institute.

** On behalf of MTV, The Gates Foundation, and The National Governors Association, CBS News conducted the poll among 1586 14-to-24-year-olds by telephone from March 31-April 9, 2005. These respondents were part of nationwide representative samples identified in households previously interviewed by CBS News Polls and from RDD samples drawn from targeted areas. The 262 African Americans and 200 Hispanics in this poll included an oversample to provide larger bases for analysis. 1200 interviews were conducted with young people in this poll ages 14 to 20, who were also oversampled. All oversampled groups were weighted to their proper proportion in the total sample. The margin of error for this survey is plus or minus three percentage points for results based on the entire sample. That means that 95 times out of a hundred, the results are within three percentage points of what they would be if the entire universe of 14-to-24 year-olds were interviewed. The error for subgroups is larger.

MTV Networks owns and operates the cable television programming services MTV: Music Television, MTV2, mtvU, Nickelodeon/Nick at Nite, TV Land, VH1, CMT: Country Music Television, and Spike TV, as well as The Digital Suite from MTV Networks, a package of thirteen digital services, all of which are trademarks of MTV Networks. MTV Networks also operates and offers joint ventures, licensing agreements and syndication deals whereby its programming can be seen worldwide.

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