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Tom Vander Ark directs education programs for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation,
which will spend $40 million to start new early colleges.
With all of its
emphasis on
academics, Bard
attracts students
looking for identity
and affirmation
as well as a more
rigorous classroom
dual enrollment to the influence of the
Mormon Church.
Although he was careful to say that
there was no evidence of an official tie to
the church, he noted that members of the
Mormon faith generally take two years
off to proselytize abroad when they are
about 19 or 20. “If this program had been
available when I was in high school,”
Pierce notes, “I might have finished
college before I went away.”
Except for the Middle College
Consortium, which sponsors the
LaGuardia program, none of these
programs has yet opened a school. Each
intermediary is currently engaged in a
planning year. Each will open two or
three schools during the 2002-03 school
year, and additional schools during the
next five years. Each school receives three
years of funding, counting the planning
year. The overall project is huge. Even the
most sympathetic observers wonder if it
will come off as planned.
There is more to creating a new
school than recruiting talented students
and teachers, of course. The finances
are complicated, and three years of Gates funding hardly
guarantees that a school will become a self-sustaining
institution. About $600,000 in planning and startup money
is budgeted for each of the new schools ($1,500 per pupil in
a 400-student school, over three years) said Vander Ark. If
an existing school is being restructured, the
funding is cut in half.
As much as a third of the money will
stay with the intermediaries, which plan and
select school sites, negotiate finances with
school districts and colleges, hire core staff,
and so on. The remaining two-thirds must
suffice to get the school anchored in a public
funding cycle that guarantees its survival
without tuition.
“We try to find an amount of money
that encourages people to carry out plans,”
said Vander Ark. “But not so much money
that we supplant public funds or create
something that is not replicable. They will
need local support and local matching
funds.” The Ford, Carnegie and Kellogg
foundations also have contributed funds.
Funding an institution that crosses traditional boundaries
between secondary and higher education can also require
changes in state laws that govern dual enrollment in high
schools and colleges. In the state of Washington, for example,
a legislative initiative called Running Start, which passed
in 1992, permits any high school student who passes an
entrance exam to take courses at community colleges without
paying tuition.
Bard College President Leon Botstein, whose book,
“Jefferson’s Children,” first attracted the Gates Foundation’s
attention and funding, is a warm supporter of the early
college movement. Yet even he turns a skeptical eye on the
Gates project. “Starting a new school is more difficult than it
looks,” he told the parents of Bard students this fall. “I believe
that Gates will end up spending more money and starting
fewer schools than they have planned.”
Ron Feemster has been a freelance writer based in Germany
and New York. He currently teaches at the Indian Institute of
Journalism& NewMedia in Bangalore, India.
Steve Sheldon, Black Star, for CrossTalk