Read of the Day: “The Gates Effect”
6:00 pm, July 17th | by Weiyu Li
In today’s Read of the Day, the Chronicle of Higher Education takes a look at the hundreds of millions of dollars the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has poured into attempting to overhaul higher education and seeks to answer why no one in academe seems grateful for the reform.
Most important, some leaders and analysts are uneasy about the future that Gates is buying: a system of education designed for maximum measurability, delivered increasingly through technology, and—these critics say—narrowly focused on equipping students for short-term employability.
Private foundations have shaped academe for decades. But Gates and its philanthropic partners, the Lumina and Kresge Foundations, are pioneering an activist approach to higher-education reform, one that emphasizes systemic change and demands quick, measurable results. This new approach has earned praise from some observers, who maintain that strategic, focused grant making is exactly what foundations should be doing.
But what if the focus is misguided? “College completion may be the wrong goal,” says Stanley N. Katz, who directs the Center for Arts and Cultural Policy Studies at Princeton University and has written critically about foundations.
“There is too much emphasis on getting people through the system, processing them,” he says. “That needs to be seen in relation to what students are in fact learning. It’s a big problem, and it’s getting very little discussion.”
The tactics of these foundations reflect broader trends that have transformed philanthropy in recent years. Since the 1990s, much of the foundation world has adopted elements of the “venture” or “catalytic”philanthropy model. The playbook? Be strategic. Tie everything to an overarching plan. Assess results rigorously. Cut losses quickly after failures.
And even the biggest of the foundations have come to feel, especially since the brutal recession, that the best way to make a difference is to tap into, or “leverage,” government money, through federal and state advocacy. They have the ears of lawmakers and regulators, but they answer to neither voters nor shareholders.
To read the full essay, click here.