Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Postsecondary Success

Overview
COVID-19 is disproportionately impacting communities of color in the U.S. and is on the rise among young adults. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that Black Americans are more than twice as likely to be infected and die from the virus as whites, and that infections among adults aged 18 to 22 increased 55 percent between August and September 2020. Additionally, the Surgo Foundation has estimated that Blacks are nearly three times as likely as whites to live in an area with insufficient testing access.

These data point to an urgent need for expanded diagnostic testing capacity at the nation’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).

HBCUs Lead
Half of the nation’s more than 100 HBCUs are currently participating in The Just Project, an initiative to increase access to COVID-19 diagnostic testing to reach campuses and their students located in underserved communities across the country. The project is adopting a “hub and spoke” approach, with diagnostic testing hubs established at up to 10 colleges and universities with medical, veterinary, pharmacy and agriculture schools. The hubs will have the required analytical lab equipment and expertise to rapidly deploy and process diagnostic tests across multiple institutions.

Gates Foundation Support
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is pleased to provide financial support to institutions participating in The Just Project as part of its overall COVID-19 response. This investment sits at the intersection of the foundation’s response, which focuses on: a) helping to accelerate the development of effective diagnostics, vaccines, and therapeutics for protecting those most in need, and b) helping schools, colleges, and universities in the U.S. adapt to new realities created by the pandemic.

The foundation’s $15 million, three-year investment will:

Grantee Institutions
The first wave of the foundation’s investment will support diagnostic testing hubs at the following institutions:

Florida A&M University – Tallahassee, FL
Hampton University – Hampton, VA
Howard University– Washington, DC
Meharry Medical College – Nashville, TN
Morehouse School of Medicine – Atlanta, GA
Xavier University of Louisiana – New Orleans, LA

Grants to up to four additional testing hubs will be made in the coming weeks.

Impact
HBCUs are critically important providers of educational opportunity for Black Americans, enrolling more than a quarter of a million students across the nation. Many students attending these institutions are from low-income backgrounds and are first in their family to attend college.

Expanding diagnostic testing capacity will help these institutions in their efforts to reopen safely and manage the costs associated with that. Safe reopening is critical to helping students stay on track to achieving their educational goals, especially students facing the greatest hurdles to starting and completing their programs.

This investment addresses only a fraction of the urgent testing need in the U.S. today. It is designed to focus on some of the most severely and disproportionately affected institutions and the communities they serve, places where COVID-19 could have the most negative impact.

This investment sits at the intersection of the foundation’s overall COVID-19 response, which focuses on: a) helping to accelerate the development of effective diagnostics, vaccines, and therapeutics for protecting those most in need; and b) equipping schools, colleges, and universities in the U.S. adapt to new realities created by the pandemic.

The foundation’s $15 million, three-year investment will:

  • Enable up to 10 HBCUs to serve as COVID-19 diagnostic testing hubs with supplies, equipment, and personnel to support diagnostic testing of students, faculty, and staff across multiple HBCUs. Investing in the diagnostic testing hubs will help them provide rapid, effective diagnostic test processing and will build lab and research capacity that will extend beyond COVID-19.
  • Position the diagnostic testing hubs to increase access to COVID-19 testing for members of the communities where they are located. Diagnostic testing demand across participating institutions ranges from 500 tests per day to 15,000 tests per day.
  • Promote collaboration across the network of HBCU institutions on best practices to open and remain open during the pandemic.

COVID-19 is disproportionately impacting communities of color in the U.S. and is on the rise among young adults. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that Black Americans are more than twice as likely to be infected and die from the virus as whites, and that infections among adults aged 18 to 22 increased 55 percent between August and September 2020. Additionally, the Surgo Foundation has estimated that Blacks are nearly three times as likely to live in an area with insufficient testing access.

These data point to an urgent need for expanded diagnostic testing capacity at the nation’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). And these HBCUs have already stepped forward as leaders and pioneers in this area, so we are proud to be supporting their efforts.

A three-year investment does two things. First, it gives participating HBCUs assurance that they will have access to rapid and effective testing regardless of the timeline for COVID-19 vaccine development and delivery. Second, and perhaps more importantly, a three-year commitment enables the testing hubs to build research and lab capacity that can be tapped beyond COVID-19.

Conversations with HBCU leaders participating in The Just Project (an existing diagnostic testing initiative focusing on HBCUs) revealed a need for capacity to support rapid diagnostic test processing. The institutions receiving grants have medical, veterinary, or agricultural lab infrastructure that can support diagnostic testing.

The focus of this project is on HBCUs. It is our hope that the model will prove effective and catalyze additional partnerships for other institutions serving communities that are being disproportionately affected by COVID-19.

We (and the institutions) will be looking at three things:

  • Reach: How many institutions are being reached? How many individuals are being reached?
  • Effectiveness: Are the testing hubs meeting the 24-48 hour turnaround target? For what percentage of tests processed?
  • Impact: Is broad availability of diagnostic testing having a positive impact on campus operations, decision-making, and overall climate)?

Testing is ineffective when results aren’t turned around quickly because effective containment relies on accurate and timely data. This investment will help participating HBCUs provide necessary instrumentation, equipment, test kits, and training labs to effectively serve students, faculty and staff in real time, and help keep them safe as they return to campus.

Data will be handled independently by the labs and participating institutions. The foundation will have no access to the testing data.

Support for diagnostic testing is just one part of the foundation’s COVID-19 response in the U.S. For example, the foundation’s Postsecondary Success strategy is working with colleges and universities and the organizations supporting them in efforts to improve the accessibility and quality of digital teaching and learning and promote greater portability of academic credit for students who have had to change institutions because of the pandemic.

The foundation has invested more than $350 million to support the global health response to COVID-19. In our U.S. Program, we’ve deployed funds across strategies to support schools, districts, and states as they navigate the pandemic, and to invest in research and interventions that will help strengthen our education systems and communities now and through the recovery from the pandemic.

We recognize that this investment is a drop in the bucket compared with the overall need related to COVID-19 in education. This investment is designed to boost existing efforts led by HBCUs to meet the immediate needs of communities in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

No. The focus of our education work in the U.S. remains to dramatically increase student success and eliminate race and income as predictors of success. In U.S. education we’re working to equip K-12 schools, colleges, and universities to adapt to new realities created by the pandemic, which includes providing holistic support to students who face the greatest obstacles to starting and finishing their education.

The COVID-19 crisis is having a disproportionate impact on the Black community in this country, both in terms of cases and the impact on college enrollment for Black students. This is a unique opportunity for us to help prevent this public health crisis from becoming an opportunity crisis for many postsecondary students. Our investment in campuses participating in The Just Project sits at the intersection of our Postsecondary Success goals and COVID-19 response priorities.