In its July 15, 2013 special report, the Chronicle of Higher Education took the Gates Foundation, as well as the Lumina and Kresge Foundations, to task for their “activist approach” to higher education reform. Much of the Chronicle’s reporting focused on questioning the foundations’ investment strategies and influence on education policies to increase college completion and expand access to education.
While it is always legitimate and healthy to debate the merits of specific reform strategies, broad critiques of the influence of foundation money that become a de facto defense of the status quo do little to further the conversation. When staying the course is irresponsible, foundations need to encourage and test bold reforms and to promote the expansion of new ideas that work, particularly for underprepared students and workers.
More than 60% of the funding (referenced by the Chronicle) that Jobs for the Future received from the Gates Foundation over the past decade was invested in a high school reform effort to develop 240 Early College High Schools across the country. These schools, which mostly serve minority, first-generation, and low-income students, are producing extraordinary results: 93% of these students graduate high school; 76% enroll in college; and 23% graduate with both a high school diploma and an Associate's degree. This initiative is putting thousands of low-income students on a pathway to college and saving families thousands of dollars.
Investments in postsecondary reform by Gates, as well as those by the Lumina and Kresge Foundations, have allowed JFF to design programs and policy strategies that help many low-income young people and adults more quickly achieve their educational goals.
We believe that these types of reform efforts and others supported by hundreds of national and regional foundations are seeding a movement that sets its sights high—on scalable and sustainable solutions to the very toughest education challenges facing our nation.
Marlene B. Seltzer is President & CEO of Jobs for the Future.