Gates foundation donates millions to help D.C. students

Many D.C. high school students smiled last Thursday with the announcement of a $122 million grant that will help students from low-income families attend college.

Funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the grant will support the city’s effort to double the number of high school and college graduates by 2010. One of the items the grant will create is the D.C. Achievers scholarships. The scholarships will be given to more than 2,000 students, who come from areas where one in three students graduates from “high school within five years and only one in 20 high school graduates earns a college degree within five years,” according to the press release.

“Our desire is to eliminate or reduce the amount of loans students have to take out for college,” said Susan Byers, executive director of National Replications for the College Success Foundation.

The scholarships and additional support, such as academic counseling, will be provided over the next 10 years, which will help the district’s other goal of tripling the number of graduates by 2014.

The D.C. College Success Foundation, an arm of the Washington state-based nonprofit organization, will award the first scholarships to 175 juniors in May. The students will come from six high schools: Anacostia Senior High School, Ballou Senior High School, H.D. Woodson Senior High School, Maya Angelou-Evans Public Charter School, Thurgood Marshall Academy Public Charter School and Friendship Collegiate Academy Public Charter School. Each student will receive a $10,000 scholarship each year for up to five years.

At this time, only students from the six schools will receive the scholarships, Byers said.

Each spring, students in their junior year will be selected based on a wide-range of factors.

“In order to apply for the scholarships, students will have to meet a financial threshold, they have to be on target for graduation and they must [show] they’re going to apply to a bachelor’s degree program,” Byers said. “We also look at their [leadership] potential, goal-setting [ability], and resiliency.”

Students who come from families that make less than $50,000 are eligible to apply.

The resiliency will look at how well the student has overcome obstacles which is important in completing school, Byers said.

The D.C. College Success Foundation will work with another nonprofit group, the D.C. College Access Program (DC-CAP), to execute the scholarship program. DC-CAP will manage the school-based part of the program. Once selected, students work with a mentor for the remainder of their high-school years and while in college.

Ten million dollars of the grant will also go toward expanding DC-CAP’s $40 million capital campaign.

One of the campaign’s goals is to increase DC-CAP’s $2,000 scholarships to $3,000. Students receive these scholarships, or last dollar awards, to cover book and room and board expenses, once the group finds all other aid for them such as institutional aid.

Unlike with the D.C. Achiever’s scholarships, DC-CAP’s scholarships are open to all students.

“We’re sort of a safety net to make sure every single student in the schools has an opportunity to go to college,” said Argelia Rodriguez, DC-CAP’s president and CEO.

DC-CAP also starts providing services such as academic mentoring to students starting in their ninth grade to their last year of college. The $10 million will also help the campaign’s second goal of extending their services to students attending D.C. charter schools. This fall, DC-CAP will be in four D.C. charter schools: Friendship Collegiate Academy Public Charter School, Maya Angelou-Evans Public Charter School, Thurgood Marshall Academy Public Charter School and the Cesar Chavez Public Charter School for Public Policy.

The privately funded group hopes to be in every school in the city.

The grant helps the issues discussed in the “Double the Number for College Success” report, which was released last year. The study found that in the city, “only 9 percent of incoming ninth graders complete college ‘on time'” and that “the remainder-the more than 90 percent” who graduate high school “never start college or fail to finish their degree.”

To date, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has contributed more than $13 million to the city and $1.5 billion nationwide for education.

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