Hartford Courant

Bill And Melinda Gates Foundation Awards $1.8 Million To 2 Community Colleges In State

By GRACE E. MERRITT, The Hartford Courant

June 23, 2009

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and MDC Inc. gave $1.8 million to Connecticut and two of its community colleges Monday to expand remedial education programs and improve graduation rates among low-income and minority students.

The money will allow Housatonic and Norwalk community colleges to build on innovative programs designed to bring students up to speed quickly, such as an online math course that allows students to progress at their own pace and a three-week math refresher course at the start of the semester.

Currently, about 70 percent of Connecticut's community college students must take remedial courses in math or English before they can start taking college-level courses.

These remedial courses typically don't count toward graduation requirements and can frustrate students, sometimes prompting them to drop out. Only 36 percent of full- and part-time community college students in Connecticut graduate within six years.

The Gates Foundation said it was intrigued by some of the approaches Connecticut is taking to address the remedial problem and smooth the path for students.

Among four new programs at Housatonic Community College in Bridgeport, for example, is a bridging program with area high schools that encourages students to continue taking math classes in their senior year. High school juniors take a placement test that shows them where they would end up in math and English at community college if they enrolled that day.

Other initiatives include more thorough student advising and tracking, embedding student tutors in classrooms and promoting study groups. The idea is to better engage students, many of whom work full time, with classmates and give them a stronger connection to college, said Mary Anne Cox, assistant chancellor for Connecticut's community colleges.

"It's really a testament to the state of Connecticut and to Housatonic and Norwalk community colleges that they received this grant. They have some of the most promising programs out there," said Marie Groark, a spokeswoman for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

In addition to Connecticut, the Gates Foundation gave grants to four other states — Florida, Ohio, Texas and Virginia — to expand their programs and policies and to compare results.