New York — Today, Demos, a national public policy and advocacy center, was announced as one of the core grantees in a new Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation initiative to double the number of low-income students who earn a postsecondary degree or credential by age 26-an increase of approximately 250,000 graduates each year. In all, $69 million was granted to organizations working to improve college enrollment and completion rates in America.
While the rate of high school students attending college in the U.S. continues to rank among the highest in the world, most American students who enroll in college will never graduate. Overall, the U.S. postsecondary completion rate currently ties for tenth among industrialized nations. Only about 25 percent of low-income students will earn a postsecondary degree and the rate for African American and Hispanic students drops to about 20 percent.
"Higher education creates the path to upward mobility and is a requirement for entering and staying in the middle class," said Tamara Draut, Vice President of Policy and Programs at Demos. "And now, more than ever, post-secondary education is vital to our national interests. In order to compete in the global economy, we must move higher education up on the list of policy priorities at the state and federal level."
Demos' state-and federal-level work in this initiative will focus on the financial barriers young people face in completing college, from financial aid to housing costs, by producing new and credible research and developing a strong multi-state advocacy network. Over the next two years, Demos will also hold a series of public forums in North Carolina, Ohio and New York; convene a national conference in 2009, in Washington, D.C.; publish research illuminating key trends-including "The Economic State of Young America 2009" report; and develop a web-based information and engagement center for legislators, media, advocates, and concerned citizens.
"College enrollment rates have grown rapidly over the past forty years, but completion rates haven't kept pace," said Hilary Pennington, who will direct the foundation's postsecondary success work. "Getting students to college isn't enough-we must help them get through college. We are proud to join other foundations that are already working on this important effort."