News and analysis
December 01, 2015

Gates Scholarship Program Aims to Boost Minority Leadership

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will replace its signature work in postsecondary education, the Gates Millennium Scholars program, with a $417.2 million scholarship program that aims to use technology to build campus leaders among low-income minority students.

Since 1999, Gates has committed more than $1.6 billion to the Millennium program, which has provided tuition support for more than 19,000 students. The last class of scholars will enter college campuses as freshmen in the fall of 2016.

The new effort, called the Gates Scholarship, has a shorter life span of 10 years and will provide tuition support for 3,000 students. It will be administered by the Hispanic Scholarship Fund, although the scholarships won’t be limited to Hispanics. The Hispanic Scholarship Fund helps administer and market the Millennium scholarship program, but the United Negro College Fund is the main administrator.

Like the current incarnation, the next Gates scholarship effort is designed to help poor minority students.

But unlike the Millennium scholarships, which support students throughout their undergraduate and postgraduate studies, the new grants will be available only to undergraduate students beginning in the fall of 2018. In addition to posting high grades, successful applicants will need to show they are leaders among their peers.

"One of the things Bill and Melinda are interested in doing is cultivating a generation of leaders, because we still don’t see as many people of color in leadership positions, particularly in higher education," said Travis Reindl, a spokesman for the foundation. "The pipeline to graduate education has to be strengthened."

Boosting Success Rates

According to Gates, 82.8 percent of undergraduate Millennium scholars earn a degree within five years.

"Bill and Melinda want to set the bar even higher," Mr. Reindl said. "They’d like to see every student selected as a Gates scholar make it through to an undergraduate credential."

To date, the Gates scholarships have produced benefits that extend far beyond the actual recipients of college aid, according to Michael Lomax, president of the United Negro College Fund. The investment has paved the way for other philanthropic support for education and changed attitudes about race, he said.

"By changing deeply rooted perceptions about the educational potential of these young men and women — not just Gates scholars but all high-achieving students of color — [the Millennium program] has greatly enhanced the value society places on them, not only as students but as professionals, citizens, and leaders," Mr. Lomax said in a statement.

In addition to administering the scholarships, the Hispanic Scholarship Fund will develop a marketing strategy and design new technology tools to assist scholars. The Gates Foundation is interested in technology applications that can connect scholars with other minority students and scholarship recipients and introduce them to program alumni to develop mentoring relationships, Mr. Reindl said.

Gates would also like to ease communication between administrators scattered in disparate parts of a college campus, connecting leaders in academic affairs, resident life, and student organizations. That communication, which Mr. Reindl said could be configured in a computer "dashboard" for each student, could be an early warning system for faculty and administrators if students are falling behind.

In an interview in June, Allan Golston, president of Gates’s U.S. programs, said a key lesson of the Millennium scholarships is that recipients are not always helped and encouraged once they arrive on campus.

"In many cases, these students go to colleges and universities where they don’t have a support base," he said. "That can put them off track."

Correction: In an earlier version, Michael Lomax's last name was misspelled as Lomas.

Send an email to Alex Daniels.