Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Postsecondary Success

November 15, 2015

Interaction Effect Remarks


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

Good evening.  I am delighted to welcome you to Seattle and to kick off this event, which my team and I have been looking forward to for months.

This gathering marks the culmination of nearly a decade of dedicated work and innovation in the higher education community.

During that time we have made real strides in widening the bridge to opportunity that is higher education.  I am inspired by the extent of our progress.

Our progress is evident in the diversity of our student body which is evolving rapidly to more closely reflect the diverse people of this great country, and in the success of efforts to guide more of those students to the promise of a certificate or degree.

It is evident in the fact that college access and college completion have emerged as key issues on the national agenda. Who would have imagined a decade ago that the President of the United States would call us to action on college attainment, or that presidential candidates would offer competing visions of higher education?

It is evident in the fact that the American people increasingly see higher education as the foremost route to life-changing opportunity, the surest ticket to the middle class. In survey after survey, the vast majority of parents see college in their child’s future.

And they see that our economy depends on it.  By 2025, two-thirds of all the jobs in this country will require a certificate or degree. Today only 40 percent of our population has one.

Our progress is evident in the emergence of a handful of innovations that we believe in because they are proving themselves time and again to significantly improve student success. These include:

 – Technologies that personalizes learning and helps students navigate the path to a certificate or degree.

 – Pathways that guide all students to a certificate or degree, regardless of how or where they began their education.

 – Financial aid that makes college affordable for students with the most need and promotes both access and success.

 – Information that empowers students, educators, and policymakers to make important decisions about how we access, deliver, and finance higher education.

And our progress is evident most of all in you. Everyone in this room is what I call a “path-breaker.”  You hail from institutions and systems that are transforming themselves in the interest of our students and our country, and from organizations that support them in their efforts.

You have set a course to achieve audacious goals for your students’ success. As I look around the room I’m recalling conversations I’ve had with many of you. Conversations about double digit improvements in graduation and retention rates. Conversations about eliminating attainment gaps between rich and poor, black, brown, and white students.

You aren’t just seeking to outperform your peers. You are seeking to create a whole new educational model, one that will redefine higher education in this country to address our access and completion challenges, not merely pay lip service to them.

You aren’t chasing after every shiny object in education reform, but instead are honing in on a few proven innovations like the ones I described.  And you are not interested in yet more pilots of these innovations.  You are looking to implement them at scale in ways that move the needle for all students.

You aren’t afraid of change. And that is both challenging conventions and setting a new standard in this industry.  You are:

 – Showing vision, grit, and determination amid rapid change in the field and an uncertain fiscal landscape.

 – Putting students at the center of everything you do, using data to focus and target and continuously improve your efforts to educate and guide them.

 – Measuring your stature not on the basis of who you exclude, but by who you include and on how well they succeed.

 – Demonstrating an unprecedented level of transparency, openly sharing data and stories about not just your strengths and     successes but also your areas for growth and improvement.

For all of these reasons, we are proud to be your partners.

So why are you here today?

You are here today because our work to widen and strengthen the bridge to opportunity that is higher education is not done.  For too many Americans, that bridge remains too narrow, too hard to navigate, and carries a toll too high.

You are here because you refuse to accept a status quo in which nearly half of the students who begin the college journey never complete it, and where only one in 10 of our lowest income students completes college by age 24.

You are here because you recognize that as a country, we are at a fork in the road.  We will either innovate and make the hard choices necessary to expand opportunity and increase student success, or we will watch higher education become a wedge between the haves and the have nots.  Your presence here is a resounding vote for the former.

You are here to test a hypotheses that we have developed in working with you – that diverse and innovative colleges and universities and systems working together in a deliberate, structured, and focused manner, committed to learning about and sharing what works and what doesn’t – will create an interaction effect.

The interaction effect will be a catalyst for bold and creative thinking that yields models that can be adopted and adapted by other colleges and universities to improve their students, thereby lending momentum to our efforts.

That interaction effect will be an accelerant, both within and beyond your institutions. By showing what is possible on a broad scale, your efforts will spur others to action and unleash a healthy spirit of competition, one that is about success stories rather than amenities.

Ultimately, the interaction effect will be a movement, growing to a size and scale that causes a ripple effect across this industry, transforming it in ways that strengthen our economy, our communities, and our families.

I am a historian by training, which means I am used to looking backward rather than forward. But if history teaches us anything, it is that transformative change is about convergence – the combination of people, ideas, and time. I believe that when it comes to realizing the promise of higher education, you are the people. These are the ideas. And now is the time.

Thank you.