Gates Foundation provides grants to early college, dual enrollment programs

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced a new program that provides six-month grants of $175,000 each to initiatives that help students transition between high school, a postsecondary credential, and future career paths through dual enrollment and early college credit programs, Higher Ed Dive reports. The program, Accelerate ED: Seamless Pathways to Degrees and Careers, offers funding to 12 design teams from 12 different states, including Arizona, California, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Texas, and Utah.

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Design teams consist of local education authorities, employers, higher education institutions, community organizers, and K-12 leaders. These stakeholders will work together to create blueprints for helping students in their respective states and local economies earn a market-aligned associate degree the year after high school graduation.

U.S. high school students currently have uneven access to early college and dual enrollment programs, and sometimes later find that credits earned through those programs are not accepted at their next college or university, Forbes reports. Accelerate ED, however, offers a learning grant that allows design teams to standardize these programs so that students from underrepresented communities have more equitable access to education and the labor market, Sara Allan, director of early learning and pathways at the Gates Foundation in the U.S., explains to Inside Higher Ed. “[O]ur funding is really to create the time and space and design capacity to do that work, to plan how to scale.”

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Funding programs that provide ‘13th-year’ associate degrees

As college costs rise and college enrollment continues to decline, early college and dual enrollment programs have emerged as appealing ways to ease the expense of higher education, making postsecondary credentials more accessible to students from underserved communities.

In particular, the new grant program is designed specifically to increase the number of Black and Latinx students who complete a postsecondary credential, Allan tells Inside Higher Ed. According to Gates Foundation data, 60% of Black and Latinx high school graduates immediately enroll in a postsecondary program. Of those enrolled, 38% of Black students and 46% of Latinx students earn a college degree or credential within six years. Foundation officials hope that increasing attainment will increase access to good jobs and socioeconomic mobility.

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Design teams that received funding include Louisiana’s Growing Bridge Year Pathways Across New Orleans, which will expand its college-level programming for 11th and 12th graders, increasing enrollment from 160 students in 2022-23 to 250 participants in 2023-24 and creating a blueprint that establishes career pathways to Louisiana-based industries.

In Ohio, the Dayton-based 13th Year Pathway to Career Success program says the Accelerate ED grant will enable expansion of a program that allows high school students to earn enough college credit to complete an associate degree one year post-graduation. Students in the program are then guaranteed acceptance into a four-year state college to complete their bachelor’s degree. With the Accelerate ED grant, the 13th Year Pathway program can grow to include 16 districts in Montgomery Country and throughout the state.

The work being done by these teams and others is even more important since the COVID-19 pandemic has magnified the racial and economic inequities in higher education and career pipeline programs, Allan says. “In particular, we see many Black and Latino students and students from low-income backgrounds deferring their dreams and opting out of their pathways to take jobs to support their families and juggle other responsibilities.”

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