Phoenix and MCC receive major grant to improve college graduation rates

November 10, 2009

By hammersmith

Phoenix and MCC receive major grant to improve college graduation rates

November 5, 2009 Phoenix, AZ

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the National League of Cities today announced that the city of Phoenix and Maricopa Community Colleges have received a $245,764 grant to boost college graduation rates by improving coordination among colleges, schools and the city. The grant is part of a National League of Cities initiative to help city and college officials explore better ways to work together to streamline services to low-income young adults attending Maricopa Community Colleges in Phoenix.

“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,” according to the Gates Foundation. “Often it’s not a question of effort. Rather, those students face multiple challenges: Many aren’t 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 makes sense to explore new ways to coordinate that assistance.”

“The future of our city will be determined by our commitment to educating our youth,” said Mayor Phil Gordon. “Partnerships like this between the city, Maricopa Community Colleges, Phoenix Union High School District, and Arizona State University Vice President of Education Partnerships, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation play a central role in ensuring that our bright young students have the tools they need to earn a college degree and build a strong knowledge-based economy.”

Dr. Anna Solley, President of Phoenix College, stated, “Through the grant, we will build on these community partnerships for the benefit of young adults in Phoenix, increasing both readiness for and accessibility to college, improving student achievement of college certificates and degrees, and ultimately strengthening our workforce by preparing students to obtain valuable and relevant employment. We are thrilled to be a partner and appreciate the tremendous support being provided by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.”

The grants, one of only seven awarded nationally, will support nine-month collaborative planning efforts in each of the seven selected cities. The Gates Foundation is considering investing additional money in 2010 to support the implementation and expansion of the most promising ideas that result from this planning. The grant will examine the relationships between the Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards (AIMS), high school course-taking and college readiness of Phoenix Union High School District students. It also will encourage youth with a General Education Degree (GED) to earn a college degree.

In today’s global economy, a college degree or advanced training beyond high school is required for the best-paying jobs. Despite near record-high unemployment, community colleges offer a bright outlook. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicted recently that, over the next decade, jobs for community college graduates will grow nearly twice as fast as the national average. But those jobs only will be available to those who graduate.

“Cities have not traditionally been focused on post-secondary 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.”

For decades, educators and national policies have focused on getting more students into college, but little has been done to ensure they graduate. “Our efforts to get more students to college are wasted when we don’t follow up with the supports they need to graduate,” said Hilary Pennington, the director of Education, Postsecondary Success and Special Initiatives at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “In today’s economy, workers need advanced training to earn good wages, and that training comes with a college degree.”

The other community colleges and city agencies that received today’s grants are Mesa Community College in Mesa, Ariz.; Sinclair Community College in Dayton, Ohio; Florida State College at Jacksonville; Research Foundation of the City University of New York; Riverside California City College; and Interagency Council on Youth, City and County of San Francisco.