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Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation gives PCC $4.85 million
Photos and Story by James Hill
PORTLAND, Ore. – Portland Community College earned a major grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as part of a $31 million nationwide effort to expand options for high school students being left behind. The $4.85 million, five-year grant to PCC will help build on its mission of providing quality educational programs and services that are affordable and accessible. The Foundation announced the award to PCC and eight other recipients from across the country in Boston today. PCC is the only organization from the Northwest earning a grant. PCC President Jesus "Jess"Carreon applauded the news. "We are extremely pleased to receive this grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Access and opportunity for post-secondary education are priorities for PCC. The grant will allow us to expand our goal of preparing high school students for college."Approximately $2.25 million of the grant will give PCC the resources to take its successful College Bound High School Completion Program to eight other community colleges nationally. It will allow PCC to develop standardized curriculum materials, enhance student service protocols, design a new data base collection system, and refine the career paths for students. It will also set up a transition program for students to continue at Portland State University and study student retention. The remainder of the grant, approximately $2.6 million, will be used to set up eight new College Bound sites across the country, who will work with PCC for the first two years of the five-year grant. Between 300 and 350 students are planned for each site by the end of the implementation phase for a total of 2,600 students across the country. PCC’s College Bound program serves more than 400 dropouts each year, ages 16 to 20. It gives students the opportunity to both earn a high school diploma and begin college classes at the same time to lead to an associate’s degree. The program also offers small classes, small learning communities of no more than 20 students that focuses on bringing reading, writing, math and study skills up to college level, and intense student support and retention services. College credits are organized around career pathways, which align with state education guidelines. Instructors in the program are selected for their skill at working with at-risk students. In a survey prepared by Jobs for the Future, a Boston-based education and advocacy organization, no other model combines a simultaneous high school and college education for dropouts, plus multiple entry points for youth at varying skills and multiple career paths.Nan Poppe, dean of continuing education at PCC, believes "the effectiveness of this program, its scale of operations and the potential to apply it elsewhere,"resulted in the $4.85 million award from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to develop for other communities. College Bound has achieved a retention rate of 60 percent, despite a student profile that shows a history of failure. The average entering student is age 17, has earned just seven high school credits with a GPA of 1.34. The program often serves young adults who may have young children of their own, may not be native speakers, must often help support their families, or have other issues that challenge their ability to stay in school and succeed. PCC contracts with local high school districts to serve this population of high school dropouts and re-enrolls them in the alternative program. The college established the program in 2000 and is the fruit of eight years of experience of designing and delivering alternative education programs for out-of-school youth in the Portland-metro area.Portland Community College is a multi-campus system covering a 1,500-square- mile college district in Northwest Oregon. The college is the largest post-secondary institution in Oregon. It offers two-year degrees, one-year certificate programs, short-term training, alternative education, pre-college courses and life long learning. The college serves approximately 105,000 full- and part-time students each year.