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Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Equity, Empowerment, and Changing Lives through Higher Ed

July 28, 2014

It was an honor to meet with National Urban League leaders recently in Cincinnati and to address the education summit in advance of its annual convention. The meetings were engaging and substantive as they explored the opportunities, and yes the many challenges, in ensuring that all people, irrespective of race and parents’ income, can obtain an affordable, high-value postsecondary credential that enables them to sustain themselves and their families, engage with their communities, and achieve their dreams.

I look forward to continuing the dialog and working together in coalitions to build the education system that our students deserve – that our country requires.  

National Urban League Pre-Summit on Education (Cincinnati)
Remarks by Dan Greenstein

Thank you for that opportunity to address the summit. It is an honor and a pleasure to be here. 

Our two organizations have many things in common.

Chief among them is that we share a belief inand aspiration forequity. Etched in stone on the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation building in Seattle are the words: “All lives have equal value.” This core principle has been the backbone of our work at the foundation here in the U.S. and across the world. 

The National Urban League and the Gates Foundation are both in the empowerment business. You march under the banner, “Empowering Communities. Changing Lives.”

Equity. Empowerment. Changing Lives.                        

We also have another deeply held belief at the foundation, and maybe the most important one to bring about the change we seek. We believe, as you believe, that you cannot achieve economic empowerment without academic achievement. For all of the faults that need to be addressed in our education system—education still remains the great equalizer in this country. 

We know that the more education you get, the more money you earn, and the less likely you are to be unemployed. Although we have seen great strides in college access, especially for low-income students and students of color, we are faced with a different challenge: improved access has not translated into college completion for all students. I don’t have to tell you that too many students are not ready for college when they arrive, and more than 40 percent drop out before finishing. 

That gap is worse along income and racial lines. Only 25 percent of college freshmen born into the bottom half of the income distribution will manage to complete college by age 24, while almost 90 percent of freshman born into families in the top income quartile will go on to finish their degree.

Equity. Empowerment. Changing Lives.

There is much work left for us to do together.

Everyone in this room today comes to the issues facing higher education from different paths—with diverse personal experiences. But we all believe that success should not depend on your race or income of your parents.

At the foundation, our vision is for a U.S. postsecondary education system that propels social mobility and economic development, one where all students are able to complete a postsecondary program that will help them to support themselves, engage in their communities, and achieve their dreams.  

Our Postsecondary Success strategy seeks to work with our partners to transform the education and business model for colleges and universities so that more students—especially low-income students—graduate at higher rates, with high-quality degrees or certificates at an affordable price.

We, at the foundation, have identified five areas of focus that are critical to meeting our goal. 

  • One is creating a personalized learning experience for each student;
  • Two is creating flexible pathways to college completion so students can move through the system more easily;
  • Three is helping to ensure colleges and universities are affordable; and
  • Four is providing clear consumer information on factors like college costs, graduation rates, and employment prospects post-graduation.
  • Five is working with universities and colleges that share our mission and are committed to transforming their educational and business models so they are able to provide more students – more low income students in particular with an educational experience that is personalized, flexible, clear and affordable, and that.

We all know there is no silver bullet to improving our higher education system, but throughout our work we constantly ask ourselves—what does success look like?

Read the full remarks here.

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