MELINDA FRENCH GATES opened last November's Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's Forum on Education with a challenge to educators to restore education as a means to economic mobility in this country—noting that the U.S. had slipped from first to tenth in the world in students' completing higher education programs, even though "more young people enrolled in college in the U.S. this year than ever before," she said. The problem is this: "The payoff doesn't come with enrolling in college; the payoff comes when a student gets a postsecondary degree that helps get a job with a family wage—and that's not happening nearly enough," Gates said. She ended her remarks by looking ahead to new priorities in the foundation's work on education reform:
Schools Competing for Students. "Our foundation has a vision of a thriving postsecondary market of community colleges, four-year colleges, online options, and for-profit institutions that would compete for students on the basis of price, value, and convenience—with a premium paid when a student completes a degree that means something in the workplace."
Restoring Equality of Opportunity. "No country has the resources to guarantee a livelihood for people who aren't willing to work hard. But nothing is more damaging to a country than to have millions of young people with no opportunities. In any society, there will always be some who perform well and others who don't. But in a strong society, those differences are determined by people's talent and energy and not by the income of their parents."
Community Colleges Important. "In the next several years, our work will focus on two-year colleges. These are the schools that enroll the majority of low-income students. Most community colleges have open admission, low tuition rates, and with 1,200 of them around the country, most people live near one. Community colleges have untapped potential for getting students the credentials they need to earn a living wage."
"We will take this cause to business leaders, labor leaders, civil rights leaders, and do everything we can to unify these voices."
Mollie Ann Smith often writes about education and career issues for Live and Learn.This article first appeared November 20, 2008.
Watch for new stories every Thursday in Live & Learn, NRTA's publication for the AARP educator community: Celebrating learning as a creative lifestyle.