The University Network

How Gates Foundation Helps Students Get Into College Amid COVID

With so much focus on schools’ plans surrounding reopening, safety precautions and virtual education, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation cautions that Americans must also consider how the COVID-19 pandemic may impact students’ futures. 

Now, more than ever before, high school students are at severe risk of falling off of their paths to higher education and, in turn, losing out on future career opportunities. Already, more than half of Black, Latinx and low-income students have been forced to reconsider their post-high school graduation plans.

“COVID-19 could — on top of the horrific toll it has already taken — permanently derail the dreams of hundreds of thousands of young people,” Bill Gates wrote in a blog post.

“Unfortunately, 30 percent of white students and 35 to 40 percent of Black and Latinx students don’t enroll in college within two years of finishing high school — and these numbers are poised to skyrocket with the impact of COVID-19,” Gates added. 

In an effort to reverse this trend and make sure students from all backgrounds have an opportunity to pursue their dreams, the Gates Foundation has awarded more than $23 million to three nonprofit organizations — College Advising Corps, City Year and Saga Education. 

What makes these organizations so special is that they each focus on a “near peer” approach. 

“It is important for students to understand the whole suite of opportunities that are available to them, and that can only be delivered in a personalized way,” Sara Allen, director of education pathways at the Gates Foundation, said during a call with reporters. “They (students) need mentors who know them as individuals and can help them see themselves as college-goers, as people in certain careers.”

  • College Advising Corps 

CAC’s primary goal is to increase the number of low-income, first-generation and underrepresented high school students who enter and complete higher education. 

The organization does this by placing recent college graduates in high schools where they serve as full-time college advisers, helping students find and apply to colleges and universities. 

Currently, CAC works in 782 high schools across the country and has achieved significant results. In 2018, students working with CAC advisers were 18 percent more likely to apply to a college or university and 19 percent more likely to get in. 

Since the start of the pandemic, the organization has identified more than 170,000 students who were in the middle of applying for college and financial aid and, with the support of the Gates Foundation, has been able to virtually help these students complete the application process. 

According to CAC’s founder and CEO Nicole Hurd, 66 percent of the organization’s advisers are people of color, 59 percent were Pell eligible in college and 55 were the first in their families to go to college. 

“I think there is a lot of credibility in saying ‘I know your story and I’m living this with you’,” Hurd said during the call. 

Advisers also often work with undocumented and homeless students. And, even if advisers haven’t experienced those things, they still make an effort to empathize with students. 

“If I don’t necessarily identify with your situation, that doesn’t mean that we can’t sympathize and I can’t understand the experience that you’re going through,” Cameron Schmidt-Temple, a CAC adviser, said during the call. 

In total, the Gates Foundation has awarded about $1 million to CAC. The organization aims to reach an additional 300,000 students and help 69,000 more students get into college.

  • City Year

City Year places “student success coaches” into schools to serve as role models, offer encouragement and help students stay on the track to college. Currently, the organization is serving 29 cities with 3,000 Americorps members serving as student success coaches for 250,000 students attending 350 schools. 

The organization strives to develop strong personal relationships with students and help to develop not only their academic skills but also their social and emotional skills. 

City Year also watches out for early indicators that may predict when a student might be falling off of their academic path. If necessary, success coaches step in with one-on-one support. 

Schools partnering with City Year are three times more likely to improve proficiency rates in math and two times more likely to improve proficiency on state English assessments, Tasha Booker, the executive director of City Year Columbus, said during the call. 

Amid the pandemic, City Year has had to operate mostly online. But, that hasn’t slowed down its support. Often, City Year coaches start the morning with virtual mindfulness activities like meditation, Booker said. And, via virtual chat, coaches are nearly always available to answer any academic questions students may have.

In total, the Gates Foundation has invested more than $15 million in City Year. The newest monetary award of $1.5 million will support a network of middle schools and be used to foster students’ resilience and sense of belonging. 

  • Saga Education 

Saga Education places math tutors in high schools, where they provide personalized and consistent math tutorials. 

According to a study on the effectiveness of Saga, students in the program learned the equivalent of more than two additional years of math in one academic year. This success also spread to standardized tests and other classes, as students saw scores rise in both areas.

Saga Education’s overall vision is to eliminate educational inequity and ensure excellence for all students. To accomplish this, the organization focuses on personalized learning and relationship-driven tutoring, AJ Gutierrez, co-founder of Saga Education, said during the call. 

Tutors work with 2-4 students at a time and meet with the same students every day or two for an entire year. That way, relationships and trust can be built. 

The Gates Foundation has awarded Saga Education $7 million since 2018. The newest award of $4.6 will allow Saga to place 36 tutors in six high schools, serving a total of 2,000 freshmen students over two years.

A call to action

Bill Gates encourages individuals, particularly recent college graduates, to help out in the effort to keep young people on the track to higher education. 

“If you’re a recent college graduate, I hope you’ll consider serving with one of these organizations,” Gates wrote in his blog post. “They’re always in need of talented people to inspire young students.”

“It’s impossible to list all the ways that COVID-19 has upended America’s education system,” he added. “And tutoring, mentoring, and advising aren’t silver bullets that will solve every problem. But they will be an essential part of keeping young people on the track to a brighter future.”