The Chronicle of Higher Education’s July 14, 2013 special report on the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation examined our post-secondary education strategy. Other publications issued reactions to the Chronicle piece today. We welcome this level of scrutiny and believe that the challenges facing our country’s education system are worthy of a rigorous public conversation.
As we engage in that dialogue, it’s important to remember what’s at stake. The Chronicle’s report missed the big picture. It doesn’t mention that nearly three out of four students aren’t enrolled in full-time, four-year degree programs and that the current system doesn’t work for adults who are juggling jobs, family and other priorities while they also work toward a degree – an elaborate dance that too often ends in students leaving school with no degree, but lots of debt. When 90% of ninth graders and 80% of twelfth graders expect they will get a four year degree, it isn’t surprising why so many students are trying to fit higher education into their lives, no matter how difficult that might be.
Amidst this transformation of the student population, “college” remains essentially the same – geared toward a full-time residential student with family support. That just doesn’t work for the vast majority of students anymore.
The Chronicle’s report missed the big picture. It doesn’t mention that nearly three out of four students aren’t enrolled in full-time, four-year degree programs and that the current system doesn’t work for adults who are juggling jobs, family and other priorities while they also work toward a degree.
These challenges, and the need for a fix, are nearly universally acknowledged—especially as the cost of post-secondary education continues to rise. That’s why we’re listening and learning from partners from across the higher education sector to help identify how to provide high -quality degrees more affordably to more students.
We are, at heart, a learning organization. We follow developments in the field, investing in partners working together to figure out which ideas are worth replicating and which aren’t. We need to support and encourage these thoughtful innovators, and help them articulate what we know to be true: That innovation is a means of increasing the value of higher education and improving its impact and ability to improve student lives. Like most Americans, we at the Gates Foundation support efforts to deliver the best educational value to as many students as possible.
In the interest of broadening the conversation even more, we welcome your thoughts on how to ensure America’s post-secondary system meets the needs of all students. Tell us what you think.