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Gates Foundation offers grants to scale high school pathway programs

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced that it is wading into the world of dual enrollment and career technical education. Through its new “Accelerate ED” initiative, it is donating $175,000 each to twelve teams across the country, including one in California led by the Linked Learning Alliance.

The Gates Foundation is interested in researching and accelerating ways to ensure that every high school graduate has the opportunity to earn an associate’s degree or an industry-equivalent certificate within a year of graduating, according to Sara Allan, the director of Early Learning and Pathways for the Foundation.

The initiative is especially focused on Black, Latino and low-income students,  who receive less support as they transition from high school to college and the workforce. Allan said it’s important dual enrollment programs don’t just offer a random smattering of college courses, but that they set up students for post-secondary success.

The Linked Learning Alliance, a nonprofit that advocates for and certifies career pathway programs in schools, will be leading a team that includes Oakland Unified, Long Beach and Antelope Valley Union High school districts. Their higher education partners are Peralta Community College, Long Beach City College and Antelope Valley College. Local youth agencies, employers and economic development agencies are also key partners, said Anne Stanton, president of the Linked Learning Alliance.

Stanton said these three districts were chosen in the initial cohort because they represent diverse communities, geography and demographics across the state that have been working on thirteenth year strategies for the last decade.

The team will be researching what works and what doesn’t for students in California, considering factors such as scheduling, student supports, advising and counseling. Stanton said said the timing of this planning grant is key for a generation of students whose educations were disrupted by the pandemic.

“It allows us to really lean it at a time that is critical,” Stanton said.

Allan noted these planning grants allow programs to take advantage of increasing federal and state funding. In California, the governor’s budget proposes an addition $500 million to increase dual enrollment attainment and another $1.5 billion to Golden State Pathways to develop high school pathway programs that increase college and career readiness.