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Seven Cities Launch Collaborative Efforts to Improve College Graduation Rates - Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

San Francisco, New York, Dayton (OH), Mesa (AZ), Riverside (CA), Phoenix, and Jacksonville will forge partnerships between city, educational, and community leaders
to evaluate and expand programs and policies that work

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
National League of Cities

SEATTLE -- The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation today announced $4 million in grants to the National League of Cities’ Institute for Youth, Education and Families, and seven cities to boost college graduation rates by better coordinating the services that colleges, schools and communities provide to students.

The grants will help cities and colleges in New York, Florida, Arizona, Ohio, and California dramatically increase the number of young people who earn a degree beyond high school. These grants recognize that successfully reaching that goal will require education, business, and civic leaders working together to coordinate and streamline the guidance and services young people need to get into, and through, college.

Enrollment at the nation’s 1,200 community colleges is at an all-time high, yet two-thirds of those attending will not graduate within three years. Often it’s not a question of effort. Rather, these students face multiple challenges: Many are not academically ready for college-level work; they juggle school and family responsibilities; and many must work full time while attending classes. Because the help that students need to overcome these obstacles comes from a range of agencies, it is critical to better understand how to coordinate assistance.

Last February, President Obama set a goal to again make America first in the world in the percentage of adults with a postsecondary credential. These cities are leading a national effort committed to exploring new ways to increase the number of young people who earn a postsecondary degree.

A coordinated effort to boost college graduation rates is increasingly critical to the long-term prosperity of our cities and our nation. A 2009 study by CEO for Cities found that if each of the nation’s 51 largest metropolitan areas improved the percentage of their populations with four-year degrees, the national GDP would increase by $166 billion a year.

“Cities have not traditionally been focused on postsecondary success, but that is changing,” said Donald Borut, executive director of the National League of Cities. “Recognizing that an educated workforce forms the underpinning of a vibrant local economy, municipal leaders have turned new attention toward boosting college completion rates. The partnerships in these seven cities will help maximize limited resources to establish the foundations for long-term growth and vitality.”

Community colleges offer the training and degrees that give workers job security and stability, even in shaky economies. Despite near record-high unemployment rates, the jobless rate of workers with associate degrees was about half that of those who only graduated from high school. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts over the next decade that jobs for community college graduates will grow nearly twice as fast as the national average.

But those jobs will only be available to those who graduate. A citywide focus that shifts attention from merely accessing college to actually earning a degree will require effort from students, improvement from colleges and the support of mayors, employers, citizen groups, school districts, and others.

“The barriers preventing students from graduating are varied and complex, so we need governments, schools, and social service groups to coordinate and target their efforts,” said Hilary Pennington, the director of Education, Postsecondary Success and Special Initiatives at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “We need to make sure that those students who enroll in college successfully earn the credentials they seek.”

The grants announced today will support nine-month collaborative planning efforts in each of the seven cities. The foundation is considering investing additional money in 2010 to support the implementation and expansion of the most promising ideas that result from this planning.

In New York City, for example, the nation’s largest public school district will join with the country’s largest public urban university and a wide array of community groups to increase the number of students who graduate from high school fully prepared for college-level work and the number of students who successfully complete a college degree. In San Francisco, the grant will help build upon cooperative efforts already underway by the city, county, schools, and colleges to address issues affecting low-income youth, such as their high remediation rates at local colleges. The grant will allow these agencies to create a new, permanent system of integrated programs and policies that will make college more affordable and attainable for city youth.

The National League of Cities’ Institute for Youth, Education and Families will receive $2.4 million as the intermediary for this work. The seven community colleges and city agencies that will receive the grants announced today are:

  • Sinclair Community College in Dayton, Ohio:

    $250,000 to strengthen partnerships, services, education, training, and data systems to help low-income youth (ages 16-26) earn postsecondary credentials. Led by Sinclair Community College in collaboration with the City of Dayton, Montgomery County, and Dayton Public Schools, the planning process will build upon the existing, strong cross-sectional collaboration and past successes with disaffected youth. Dayton’s project is unique among the other participating cities in its involvement of the Montgomery County Administrator. A large contingent of local school districts, community-based organizations, industry representatives, local foundations, and four-year universities will support the project. Contact: Natasha Baker, +1.937.512.2221
  • Florida State College at Jacksonville:

    $250,000 to build upon the local efforts of Jacksonville Journey, Learning to Finish, and Jacksonville Commitment, who are coordinating efforts to lower neighborhood crime, decrease the city’s high school dropout rate, and boost the number of college graduates. Contact: Dr Edythe Abdullah
  • Mesa Community College (MCC) in Mesa, Arizona:

    $250,000 to work to facilitate the strategic planning process with the citywide P-20 center, the Mayor’s Office, Mesa Public Schools and Mesa Community College and make data-informed decisions to ensure improved access and postsecondary graduation rates. Contact: Sonia Filan
  • The City of Phoenix, Arizona:

    $245,764 to expand partnerships among the City of Phoenix, Maricopa Community College, and Phoenix Union High School District to examine the relationship between the Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards, course taking, and college readiness, and to improve the college completion rates of disconnected youth. Contact: Deborah Dillon
  • The City of New York:

    $250,000 to develop a citywide systemic approach to college readiness and success by building on a unique K-16 data-sharing agreement and many innovative partnerships between the mayor’s office, the New York City Department of Education, City University of New York, and numerous community organizations. Contacts: Dawn Walker, Mayor’s Office, +1.212.788.2958; Michael Arena, CUNY, +1.212.794.5685
  • Riverside City College in California:

    $140,000 to explore how the city, the community college, and local school districts can work together to increase access to higher education, particularly among lower income and underrepresented populations, and raise the college-going rate in the region to 61 percent, which translates to 100,000 more students enrolled in postsecondary courses by 2025. Contact: Jim Parsons, +1.951.222.8857
  • Interagency Council, City and County of San Francisco:

  • $250,000 to support its Post-secondary Partnership, an effort to unify the efforts of the school district, City College of San Francisco, and the city and county governments aimed at doubling postsecondary completion rates. Contact: Kimberly Wicoff, +1.415.701.5618

The National League of Cities
The National League of Cities is the nation’s oldest and largest organization devoted to strengthening and promoting cities as centers of opportunity, leadership and governance. NLC is a resource and advocate for 19,000 cities, towns and villages, representing more than 218 million Americans. For more information, visit

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