Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Postsecondary Success

October 12, 2017

ALASS Institute – Dan Greenstein’s Remarks

ALASSRemarks (as prepared) by Dan Greenstein at the Accelerating Latino Student Success (ALASS) Institute Conference

Dan Greenstein is the director of Postsecondary Success at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.


Fri., Oct. 6, 2017, Washington, D.C.

Good afternoon, and thank you for having me. It is a privilege to be with my colleagues from philanthropy and with all of you who are on the front lines of the push for student success.

I don’t have to tell you that these are challenging times for higher education and for the nation at large. But I do want to tell you that we as a foundation stand with you through these challenges. Our leadership made that clear last month when they spoke out against the president’s decision to rescind DACA and urged leaders here in this city [Washington, D.C.] to help the hundreds of thousands of Dreamers who are the lifeblood of our economies and communities.

For us at the Gates Foundation, equity is an orientation that undergirds all of our work. It starts from our core belief that all lives have equal value and permeates all of our strategies, from disease eradication and prevention, to U.S. education. In our Postsecondary Success strategy, our work is dedicated to eliminating attainment gaps by race and socioeconomic status, which is essential for economic development and social mobility.

So what does this look like in everyday terms? It involves focusing on three things:

One is promoting the development and assessment of innovations that help more of today’s college students get to and through credential programs. Through investments in things like digital learning, technology-enabled advising, and redesigning remedial education, we’re seeing progress for students who have historically faced the highest hurdles: low-income and first-generation students, students of color, and working adults. Going to college in 2017 is not like going to college in 1977, and leading institutions are adapting their academic programs and student supports to keep up.

And we need to speed the spread of innovation, which is where collaboration comes in. We cannot pilot our way to closing equity gaps, and we cannot afford to keep reinventing wheels when it comes to boosting access and success. That is why Excelencia is such a valued partner. Your commitment to understanding and sharing what works is essential for progress toward our shared goals.

We’re working with 29 diverse institutions–including HSIs–and two state systems that are committed increasing access and success and closing equity gaps by sharing and scaling innovative policies and practices. As you know, our enterprise has historically been known more for competition than collaboration, but we see a growing appetite for cooperation and resource sharing, and we’re committed to stoking and whetting that appetite.

The kind of change I’m describing doesn’t just happen. It needs to be nudged along by incentives that promote better outcomes for all students and challenge some of the orthodoxies espoused by the likes of the U.S. News rankings. Here I’m talking about things like accountability systems that count all of our students and recognize institutions for improving mobility rather than selectivity. I’m also talking about changes to our federal student aid system, which leaves low-income students behind with a cumbersome and outdated application process.

These strategies do not represent a fix-all or a silver bullet. But we believe that they do provide momentum for closing equity gaps that have persisted for far too long.

And I also have to say that equity has been a journey for us, one that requires a large dose of humility. We in Postsecondary Success have had to face the fact that we have at times been less vocal than we should have about the relationship between race and student success, reflecting society’s hesitation to engage in frank dialogue about race and opportunity.

We are still learning about how to engage equity in our investments, in our relationships, and even in our messaging. But we are clearer now than ever that we have a responsibility to speak out on equity issues, whether or not it makes people uncomfortable. And we will be looking to you for advice and guidance as we continue this journey.