Gates Foundation Awards Grants to Expand ‘Early College’ High Schools

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As part of a broader push to improve the college-going odds for low-income and minority students, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has announced grants totaling nearly $30 million aimed at greatly expanding the number of "early college" high schools around the country over the next four years.

Often located on college campuses, early-college high schools are designed to enable disadvantaged students, in particular, to earn two years' worth of college credits or an associate's degree along with their high school diplomas. In recent years, a number of philanthropies, led by the Gates Foundation, have begun making grants designed to create a national network of such schools.

Upping its total commitment to that network to nearly $114 million, the Seattle-based foundation announced on Dec. 7 that it was making seven grants worth more than $22 million to start 42 new early-college high schools. The foundation also announced a grant of $7 million to Jobs for the Future, a nonprofit organization based in Boston, to provide technical help to the network and set up a data-collection system aimed at evaluating the schools' effectiveness.

The early-college announcements marked the end of a yearlong pause for the Gates Foundation in its education grantmaking, which has focused on spawning and supporting networks of smaller, more personalized high schools around the country. ("Gates-Financed Initiative Faces Instructional Hurdles, Report Says," June 23, 2004 and "Major Gates Foundation Grants to Support Small High Schools," June 16, 2004.)

Tom Vander Ark, the executive director of education for the Gates Foundation, said he does not see early-college high schools as a model that is right for all students, but one that should be available throughout the country, particularly for students from low-income families and from racial and ethnic minorities.

He noted that high school students from more advantaged circumstances have long been getting a taste of college and earning college credits through dual-enrollment programs and Advanced Placement courses.

"This initiative seeks to provide that same benefit to low-income and minority students in a highly supportive environment," Mr. Vander Ark said during a teleconference held to announce the new grants. "It's not our vision of high schools for all, but it's one of the options that ought to exist in every urban area in America."

Major Expansion Seen

For the Gates Foundation, the early-college high school initiative is part of a more sweeping effort to improve the graduation and college-going rates among poor and minority students, largely by stimulating the creation of various kinds of smaller, more personalized high schools with challenging academic programs. Counting the newly announced grants, the foundation has committed $806 million to that broader effort, the foundation reported.

Foundation officials estimate that by fall 2008, the nation's early-college network will have grown to include some 170 schools, serving more than 65,000 students, from the 46 schools serving 8,000 today. The network has received more than $124 million since 2001 from the Gates Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, and the W.K. Kellogg, Woodruff, and Ford foundations.

Most of the grants announced Dec. 7 went to organizations that previously received money from the Gates Foundation.

As the recipient of the largest grant, Jobs for the Future is to strengthen the early-college network and to set up a "student-information system" that will result in public reports on student achievement in the network. That system will also enable schools to track their students' progress over time and share data about student demographics and performance, foundation officials said.

Other grants include:

• $6.1 million to Antioch University Seattle, to add 10 more schools to the eight early-college high schools that the university currently coordinates in Washington state. Targeting American Indian students, the new schools are to be located in such states as Alaska, California, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Texas, and New Mexico.

• $6 million to the New York City-based Middle College National Consortium, to add 10 more schools by 2008 to its existing network of 20 early-college high schools. Located at LaGuardia Community College in New York City, the consortium aims to start schools on college campuses in California, Chicago, New York, Ohio, Texas, and Washington state.

• $5.4 million to Portland Community College in Portland, Ore., for its Gateway to College program, which targets students who had previously dropped out of high school. The grant is to support the creation of nine new early-college high schools around the country based on the model that the college has developed.

• $2 million to the University System of Georgia and the Georgia education department to create six new early-college high schools in Atlanta and other communities.

• $1.2 million to the Cincinnati-based Knowledge Works Foundation to add two more schools to Ohio's network of early-college schools, which currently includes eight schools either planned or started.

• $1 million to the Rochester Area Community Foundation and the Rochester, N.Y., school district to support the creation of up to five such high schools.

• $891,000 to the National Council of La Raza, a Washington-based Hispanic-advocacy group, to develop and disseminate a school design based on its existing early-college network of 12 schools.

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