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Gates Foundation Grants Target College Graduation Rates

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation today announced $4 million in grants to the National League of Cities' Institute for Youth, Education and Families, and seven cities to boost college graduation rates by better coordinating the services that colleges, schools and communities provide to students. Reuters reports that, "Enrollment at the nation's 1,200 community colleges is at an all-time high, yet two-thirds of those attending will not graduate within three years."

The grants will help cities and colleges in New York, Florida, Arizona, Ohio, and California dramatically increase the number of young people who earn a degree beyond high school. These grants recognize that successfully reaching that goal will require education, business, and civic leaders working together to coordinate and streamline the guidance and services young people need to get into, and through, college.

The dropout rate for both two and four year colleges is higher than is necessary. But if there is an at-risk subset for college students in general, it's those who are pursuing an associate's degree. Often these students didn't acquire the study habits in high school to carry them; just as often they are working and often supporting a family while going to school.

In these situations the value of an online degree program becomes readily apparent. These are the situations that the Gates' grants will hopefully address. People who need child care more than they need money for textbooks are often the reluctant college dropouts today.

Class schedules can be flexible; degree programs can be completed in eighteen months or three years, it's up to the student. It's also worth noting that the average completion rate for associate's programs today is three years, so distance learning students can get ahead of the game easily if they've got the discipline.

According to the Obama Administration, job growth for graduates with associate degrees over the next twenty years will outpace those with bachelor's degrees. Job growth today is in the service industries, but in services that require training. Health care careers will put you in an industry with chronic shortages of trained personnel and a steep projected growth curve.

Engineering careers are expected to grow at a rate well beyond the national average. Engineering technicians' careers are going to grow right with them. Then there's the IT careers, some of which require an associate's degree - such as computer repair technicians, installation technicians and network administrators. There can be great value in an associate's degree if it's in the right industry. It can also be a stepping stone to further education when positions up the ladder are within reach.

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