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Gates Foundation to invest in community colleges

SEATTLE  — The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation would like to encourage more 20-somethings to get a post-high school degree or certificate before starting a family.

To that end, the foundation announced Tuesday an initial round of $69 million in grants to the nation’s 1,200 community colleges and their students.

The foundation is joining a group of charitable organizations that support community colleges and plans to spend up to a half-billion dollars over the next four years on the project, said Hilary Pennington, director of special initiatives in the foundation’s United States program.

The grants will compliment the foundation’s efforts to reform American high schools, get more kids into preschool, support charter schools and hand out millions of dollars in college scholarships.

“We felt that the biggest and most important thing the foundation could do was keep investing in education,” Pennington said, noting that the project is a response to the foundation leaders’ desire to do more to reduce inequity in the United States.

The Gates Foundation has always played a role in the U.S., but most of the grants from its $35.1 billion endowment support programs elsewhere, focusing largely on fighting diseases such as AIDS, malaria and polio, and supporting agriculture and clean water in Africa and Asia.

The foundation’s overall higher education goal is to double the number of low-income adults who get a degree or certificate beyond high school by age 26.

It hopes to do that by focusing on college completion, arguing that while college enrollment has grown dramatically in the past 40 years, most students are not graduating with a degree or certificate.

The community college project is intended to provide money for such uses as scholarships for low-income students, research into programs to promote higher education and support for student transportation, child care and housing.

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