Community colleges team up to pursue $35 million in grants
Two groups of Arizona community colleges are organizing to bid for $35 million grants the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is offering to help more students complete their studies.
The Completion by Design grant program targets nine states with large numbers of community colleges and large populations of lower-income students.
Maricopa Community Colleges will apply with Mohave Community College, Yavapai College, Northland Pioneer College, Central Arizona College and Coconino Community College.
Pima Community College, Cochise College and Arizona Western Colleges will file their own application.
Verlyn Fick, vice president for instruction at Cochise College, said the split is necessary to keep the applying groups small.
"It's based on the Gates Foundation's perception that a smaller group can run a pilot program more easily," Fick said, adding that in an ideal world the state colleges would apply together.
About 140 colleges in the selected states are eligible to apply to be managing partners, or leaders who will interact with the foundation. Those managing partners must apply with a cadre of at least four campuses or schools.
Only three to five managing partner applications will be selected to receive Completion by Design grants.
Maria Harper-Marinick, executive vice chancellor and provost at Maricopa Community Colleges, said the northern colleges asked Maricopa to take lead on the application after a conference call last month.
"They decided that the regions have unique needs," she said, "and a better approach is to have these two regions."
Jeanne Swarthout, president of Northland Pioneer College, said it was the limited number of slots that led the northern schools to join with the central region.
"To dilute our efforts is probably not the best for the schools in Arizona," Swarthout said.
Greg Gillespie, vice president for academic and student affairs at Yavapai College, said the two groups allow rural schools to complement urban colleges in Maricopa and Pima counties.
"It really makes sense to look at what the strongest application we can put together as a state to be the most competitive for that grant," he said.
Mark Milliron, deputy director for post-secondary education for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, said winning applications will be the schools showing strong reform work, use of innovative technology and involvement at critical stages in a student's development.
"We want people who are committed to this work, who have been doing this work," Milliron said.
The program, announced last month at a community college summit in Washington, D.C., will consist of three phases.
Phase one, lasting a year, involves visits by foundation representatives and forming model programs for student success. Phase two will last 24 to 30 months and initiate those programs. Assuming the programs are working, phase three will expand the programs and open the grant to any school in the selected states that wants to participate.
For each grant awarded, up to $410,000 is available in phase one and $16 million in phase two. Grants could reach $35 million as the programs expand in phase three.
Applications are due by Nov. 19, and winning managing partners will be announced in late January.