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Cities to link K-12, community colleges to boost college completion

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​Four cities—New York City, San Francisco, Riverside, Calif., and Mesa, Ariz.—will share $12 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to improve college completion rates by aligning academic standards between high school and college, strengthening data systems, implementing early assessment and college prep strategies, and creating support systems.
 
The initiative—Communities Learning in Partnership, which is led by the National League of Cities (NLC)—will focus on building stronger partnerships between K-12 schools, community colleges and municipal governments.
 
“Historically, municipalities have not been involved in linking with postsecondary education,” said Allan Golston, president of the U.S. Program at the Gates Foundation. “For the U.S. to have the best-prepared workforce, it is imperative for local leaders to develop a seamless transition to a postsecondary education,” he said.
 
“There is nothing more important than creating a college-going culture,” added San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom during in a press briefing, stressing that a well-educated workforce is critical to economic development.
 
Each city has already brought together mayors and other municipal leaders, K-12 superintendents and community colleges over the past nine months to develop new ways of helping more students successfully complete an education beyond high school. The grants announced on Monday will help implement those plans.

“Community colleges are critical to economic development because they offer affordable training and degrees to local residents,” according to a press release from NLC. 
 
For the cities receiving grants, the numbers are stark:

• Low-income students who have graduated from Mesa Public Schools and attend Mesa Community College have a 5.4 percent graduation rate.

• At the City University of New York (CUNY), which includes community colleges, 10 percent of the students enrolled as freshman in 2006 had earned an associate degree three years later.

• The graduation rate at Riverside City College (RCC) is 14 percent.

• In San Francisco, 27 percent of 9th graders will earn a postsecondary credential.
 
Scott Smith, the mayor of Mesa, said his district has one of the best graduation rates in the state, but many of those students are not going on to college. The grant will allow local stakeholders to study the problem using data and hopefully develop strategies that they can share with other cities.
 
“We don’t know why they are not moving on. We lose them in the transition,” Smith said.
 
Over the next three years, the grants will support efforts to coordinate and streamline the guidance and services students need to get into, and through, college:

• The Research Foundation of CUNY will seek to align academic standards between the City University of New York and the city’s K-12 public schools and help coordinate academic advising and counseling to double associate degree completion rates by 2020.

• The city and county of San Francisco will align curriculum and teaching across systems and create support systems to help students navigate to and through college, while ensuring multiple pathways to graduation. The program aims to increase the college completion rates of high school freshmen from 30 percent to 50 percent by 2020.

• The city of Mesa will coordinate student success policies and practices across educational systems by implementing a shared accountability framework to increase the completion rates of low-income youth from 8 percent to 16 percent by 2020.

• RCC will implement early-assessment and accelerated college prep strategies, employer-supported degree paths and a coordinated network of academic, student and social support services to boost associate degree completion rates at RCC from 14 percent to 20 percent by 2013.
 
“The selected cities have three elements in common,” said Hilary Pennington, director of education with the Gates Foundation: “a willingness to set goals and use data to track progress; realign systems to work in new ways; and build commitment and provide leadership among stakeholders, such as businesses.”
 
Pennington noted that the foundation focuses mostly on urban areas when awarding grants because they have the largest number of low-income students and have the most community colleges. “It hopes to share successful practice with rural community colleges through the networks developed through the initiative and other programs,” she said.
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