At a glance
- Education after high school has provided opportunities to millions of Americans, but race, ethnicity, and income are too often predictors of student access to and success in postsecondary education.
- White adults are nearly twice as likely as Latino adults to have at least an associate’s degree, and high-income students are five times more likely than students from low-income backgrounds to earn a college degree by age 25.
- We are driven by the belief that every life has value and that skills and knowledge can empower people to improve their lives and the lives of their families and communities.
- We work with college and university leaders, innovators, policymakers, and state and local leaders to ask the hard questions and advocate for evidence-backed changes in policy and practice to boost student success.
Our efforts to improve postsecondary success, which go back more than a decade, puts students at the center and is guided by these beliefs:
- Educational opportunity should not depend on race, ethnicity, or income.
- Colleges and universities can be critical agents of change when it comes to boosting student success and eliminating access and success disparities for Black, Latino, and Indigenous students and students from low-income backgrounds.
- Strong networks of institutions and supporting organizations that provide knowledge and resources are critical for accelerating learning and student-centered change.
- Evidence is essential for guiding improvement in student outcomes.
We support colleges and universities that are committed to transformation—making significant and lasting change to dramatically improve student outcomes and eliminate race, ethnicity, and income as predictors of student success. For our team, transformation includes having a student-centered mission, setting goals and being accountable for them, using data to make decisions, creating a collaborative environment, and making a commitment to continuous improvement.
Areas of focus
Navigating the path to a certificate or degree can be challenging and costly. We work with colleges and universities that are taking the lead in implementing innovations that help students identify and get on a path to a certificate or degree, stay on that path, and ensure that they are learning along the way. We focus on innovation in three key areas: digital teaching and learning, developmental education, and student support.
A growing number of colleges and universities have created and/or expanded emergency aid programs for their students to help improve retention and completion rates, particularly for students of color, first-generation students, and students from low-income backgrounds. Investments in this area focus on equipping more colleges and universities to quickly allocate emergency aid funds to students with the most need, using a combination of tools, knowledge, and training.
Our work with colleges and universities and the organizations supporting them focuses on transformation—building capacity to dramatically improve student outcomes and eliminate racial and income gaps. We engage directly with a diverse group of institutions and intermediaries to generate tools and resources to support transformation efforts and support the creation of networks to connect institutions with these resources and with each other to accelerate learning.
We are working toward a comprehensive data strategy across U.S. higher education that ensures efficient, consistent, and transparent collection and reporting of key performance metrics—including and especially value—to enable students, institutional leaders, and policymakers to make informed decisions about the value of different postsecondary pathways.
Federal and state policies affect who colleges and universities serve and how they are served. Our policy focus is on money and measures. We are interested in how public funds are allocated and spent to help today’s college students (especially low-income and first-generation students, students of color, and working adults) and how colleges and universities are measuring and being held accountable for their progress and success.
Why focus on postsecondary success?
Higher education has historically been an engine of social mobility and economic growth in the United States, but as costs rise and colleges and universities face growing financial pressures, disparities in access and success by race, ethnicity, and income persist and student financial aid systems are stretched to the limit—all at a time when our economy needs more educated workers than ever.
Left unaddressed, these trends will leave the U.S. economy without the skilled workforce it needs to remain competitive and will increase inequity. The political and social implications for our nation are profound and unacceptable. They are also avoidable.
Research and innovation at colleges and universities across the country are yielding promising solutions that could increase student success rates and ensure that all students receive a high-quality educational experience that is tailored to their needs, academic abilities, and career goals.
These solutions include technology-enabled teaching and student advising tools as well as systems that gather and analyze data to help institutions improve their performance and student outcomes.
Visit our U.S. Program website
The foundation's U.S. Program works to ensure that everyone in the U.S. can learn, grow, and get ahead, regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, or family income. We work with local leaders and engage with state and federal policymakers to support efforts that transform schools, systems, and society to create life-changing opportunities for learning, growth, and prosperity.
The Economic Mobility and Opportunity team works to help the U.S. economic system better meet the needs of those experiencing poverty and significantly increase their opportunities to achieve economic success.
The K-12 Education team supports educators and public schools in improving educational outcomes for Black and Latino students and students experiencing poverty.
The Washington State team works with partners to ensure equitable opportunities for children and families in Washington, where the Gates family has lived for generations.