Gates Foundation Gives $9-Million in Grants to Support ‘Breakthrough’ Education Models

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is stepping up its investment in innovative delivery models in higher education, announcing $9-million in grants today to support a range of new approaches.

Among the awards is the foundation’s first contribution to so-called MOOC’s, or Massive Open Online Courses, where professors let anyone online take their courses, sometimes attracting tens of thousands of learners. Specifically, the Gates Foundation is giving $1-million to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for its MITx project, which offers such open courses. The grant is focused on an effort to help colleges serving low-income students teach an official course based around MITx materials, using an approach called the “flipped classroom.” Students at the partner colleges will watch the MITx video lectures for a computer-science course, and use traditional classroom time at their own institution for additional exercises and to get help when they’re stuck.

“It’s a test to see how much can students get from what’s in the MITx course, and what do they need to get supplemented,” said Josh Jarrett, deputy director of postsecondary success at the Gates Foundation, in an interview this week. “Do they get 50 percent of what they need from the MITx course, or do they get 75 percent, and what’s the best way to support faculty in the blended environment?”

In several of the awards announced today, the Gates Foundation is focusing on making sure new online alternatives tie into mainstream higher-education systems. It is giving $500,000 to the University of the People, for instance, an upstart institution that uses volunteer professors to teach online courses that are free to students. But the foundation’s grant focuses on helping the new university gain accreditation, which would make its degrees less of a gamble for students hoping the credential will help them advance in their careers.

The foundation’s biggest single grant announced today, $3-million, will go to MyCollege Foundation to create a new nonprofit college designed to deliver high-quality online courses at low cost to students.

The foundation is awarding a $1-million grant to support the City University of New York’s effort to build its first new campus in 40 years. The campus, dubbed New Community College, says it will try a “new and imaginative model” to help first-generation students complete a degree.

Mr. Jarret said the set of grants signals an increase of the foundation’s support for what he called “breakthrough delivery models.”

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