Gates Foundation to Give D.C. Students Push to College
Thursday, March 22, 2007
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will announce today a $122 million investment to create a new crop of high school and college scholars among some of the city's poorest and lowest-achieving students. It is the foundation's largest investment to date in D.C. education and one of the largest grants it has made for education.
More than 2,000 students will become D.C. Achievers over the next 15 years and receive college scholarships of up to $10,000 each a year for a maximum of five years. The money is meant to jump-start low high school and college graduation rates among students living in parts of Northeast and Southeast Washington, where statistics show that within a span of five years, 66 percent of high school students fail to complete high school and just one in 20 high school graduates earns a college degree.
The grant is a monumental leap from the $4.8 million the foundation awarded the D.C. public schools last fall for several low-performing schools and smaller investments in years past at some charter schools. The D.C. College Access Program, or DC-CAP, the city's largest nonprofit college counseling program, will administer key elements of the D.C. Achievers program.
Nine percent of D.C. high school graduates who attend college finish within five years. The program aims to double the college completion rate beginning with the Class of 2010 and triple the rate for the Class of 2014.
The Gates Foundation, which has donated $1.5 billion nationally for education and more than $13 million in the District, has been working with D.C. officials for three years to determine the best way to be a catalyst for improving urban education in Washington. City leaders last fall released the "Double the Number for College Success" report, which tracked students over five years and found that the District had a 43 percent high school graduation rate.
"We are honored to be able to partner with the leaders of the District of Columbia to pursue this ambitious goal," said Jim Shelton, education program director of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. "We hope that this investment can serve these students well and spur broader improvement in D.C. education."
The announcement for the scholarship program is scheduled for this morning at Frank W. Ballou Senior High School in Southeast Washington. The program is a collaborative effort involving the foundation, DC-CAP, the D.C. College Success Foundation, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, the D.C. public schools and charter school leaders.
About 175 juniors at six traditional and charter high schools -- Anacostia, Ballou, H.D. Woodson, Friendship Collegiate, Maya Angelou-Evans and Thurgood Marshall Academy -- will be selected by the end of the school year for the scholarship. Designed to tap hidden potential, the program will have broader selection criteria that will consider students' grade-point averages and grades, but also their "resilience" and "commitment to education."
Students at the six high schools will learn about the program and receive application packets through school assemblies scheduled over the next few weeks. Once selected, the students will be part of a summer college prep program and will be assigned "college liaisons" who will advise and mentor them through the college application process.
The D.C. College Success Foundation, a nonprofit group that awards college scholarships and mentors poor students, will receive $112 million of the grant. That foundation will partner with DC-CAP, which has hired six college liaisons to work with students at the six high schools, and also do outreach at middle and junior high schools in nearby communities.
DC-CAP, which is privately funded, will receive the remaining $10 million of the grant as the first contribution to its $40 million capital campaign. The money will allow the nonprofit, which has college resource centers at 17 high schools, to award more scholarships and expand its reach for the first time into four charter high schools beginning this fall. (Washington Post Co. Chairman Donald E. Graham is chairman of the DC-CAP board.)
Yesterday, School Superintendent Clifford B. Janey said through his spokesman that the investment meshes with his academic blueprint for improving students' achievement, the master education plan.
"We are grateful for the mentoring guidance and financial support this generous investment will offer to students who might otherwise not be ready or able to attend college," Janey said. "This investment fits perfectly with what [D.C. public schools are] already doing and highlights the need for the entire community to get involved in making sure our students succeed."