Chapel Hill nonprofit wins Gates grant

MDC gets $16.5 million

Staff WriterDecember 10, 2008 

  • LOCATION: Chapel Hill

    FOUNDED: 1967

    ABOUT: MDC is a product of the North Carolina Fund, which was created by Gov. Terry Sanford to help the state transition from an agricultural economy to an industrial one. MDC publishes research and develops policies aimed at reducing poverty and increasing opportunities, primarily in the South. It also consults with philanthropies to help them do more with the money they give away.

MDC, a Chapel Hill nonprofit focused on poverty and community development, has won a $16.5 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

It is the biggest grant in MDC's 40-year history and the largest single award announced Tuesday by the Gates Foundation.

The Seattle-based foundation, founded by the Microsoft co-founder and his wife, on Tuesday awarded $69 million to groups working to improve college enrollment and completion rates in the United States.

That's a priority for the foundation. It wants to double the number of low-income students who earn a college degree or other postsecondary credential by the age of 26 -- an increase of 250,000 graduates annually.

"There is no greater door to opportunity in this country than access to a quality education," Allan Golston, president of the foundation's U.S. program, said in a statement. And while more students are going to college, the same number aren't finishing.

The foundation awarded grants to groups that already have programs under way to maximize the effect of those efforts.

MDC will use the money to advance a 4-year-old initiative it manages, called "Achieving the Dream," focused on community colleges. It aims to identify issues that prevent students, particularly minorities or those with low incomes, from finishing classes.

The initiative was conceived and designed by the Lumina Foundation for Education and other partners. It has received more than $120 million in funding.

Achieving the Dream has helped reduce dropout rates in remedial classes at Patrick Henry Community College in Martinsville, Va., according to MDC, and reduced the achievement gap between white, black and Hispanic students in remedial classes at Valencia Community College in Orlando, Fla.

The Gates money is "a significant vote of confidence" in the initiative, said David Dodson, president of MDC. "These students are our work force for the next 20 years, and it is critical that they get the post-secondary education they need to survive and thrive in a knowledge-based economy."

Achieving the Dream is in place at 82 colleges in 15 states, including North Carolina.

MDC will distribute the Gates money to 15 colleges that have shown success in pilot programs so that they might reach more students.

jonathan.cox@newsobserver.com or 919-836-4948

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