Gates opens higher education advocacy arm on the agenda

Gates opens higher education advocacy arm on the agenda
Gates opens higher education advocacy arm on the agenda

Bill and Melinda Gates have partially formed a advocacy organization to steer their educational agenda.

The move comes as Congress is discussing a re-authorization of the Higher Education Act, the current federal statute on financial assistance to students.

More recently the Gates Foundation set up a committee to assess the worth of a college degree or credential. If Gates lobbyists convince lawmakers to support the Gates commission’s agenda, then Congress could make it harder for students in some majors to obtain loans or grants.

In this way, I assume that the Gateses will turn universities and colleges that currently offer a wide variety of courses into centers of vocational training that concentrate on instantly marketable skills.

I am a political scientist who is studying the politics of education. In my Common Core book I explain how the Common Core State Standards Initiative was funded and orchestrated by Bill and Melinda Gates. I argue that the Gateses have helped develop an educational framework that emphasizes a limited collection of computer-testable reading, writing, and math skills.

The stated aim of the Gateses advocacy campaign is to concentrate on – among other things – educational results for students in black, Latino and rural areas and shift people from poverty to jobs.

The Post-Secondary Interest Commission of the Gates Foundation offers some insight into what educational results mean to the Gateses. The commission is aimed at establishing a way of calculating the value of such degrees or certificates. When policymakers follow this measurement device, instead they will only finance items that would contribute to immediate economic payoff.

Although prestigious higher education institutions are likely to continue offering liberal arts education to students, regional state schools may be under pressure to cut majors including history, English, geography, philosophy, and political science.

Why hang out now

For years the Gates Foundation has been shaping K-12 public education reform indirectly. The group has contributed millions of dollars in grants to education associations, think tanks, parent-teacher organizations, teacher unions, state education departments and an coalition of governors to research, promote and enforce the Common Core. Despite a revision and rebranding initiative in many states, the standards still form the way most American students learn to read, write and math.

Now that the Gateses have been pivoting towards lobbying, it is indicating to me that they intend to take a more active role in drafting legislation.

Charities – the kinds of groups eligible for tax-deductible contributions – can do some lobbying, but not too much, according to the IRS. These associations may usually talk about issues for educational purposes, but they can’t support passing specific legislation or on behalf of political candidates. In forming a 501(c)(4) charity, also known as a social service organization, the Gateses are now able to negotiate legislation directly with legislators.

The Gateses selected Rob Nabors, previously the chief lobbyist for the Obama White House, to lead the new lobby store. The new party won’t send money to the political parties, according to Nabors. However it does have the “potential to improve results” by educating policymakers.

The Gateses Higher Education Program

I contend that Bill and Melinda Gates are punching a one-two punch with the introduction of the Post-Secondary Interest Commission and the Gates Policy Initiative. The former attempts to determine whether such majors are deserving of federal financial assistance; the latter will convert this process into legislation.

“If we can have the strong concept of college interest, we certainly hope it can impact the higher ed reauthorization act,” recently reported Millie García, president of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities and co-chair of the Gates Commission.

In 2017, the federal government allocated about US$ 29 billion in Pell Grants to about 7.2 million undergraduates under the Higher Education Act.

When Congress adopts the instrument of the Gates Foundation to calculate the value of a college degree or credential, then Congress may determine that low earnings or low levels of loan repayment disqualify students from obtaining federal financial assistance in such programs. I contacted a Gates Policy Initiative spokesperson and was told “We have nothing more to say on this stage.”

One member of the Gates Commission, Anthony P. Carnevale, has explained how a focus on program-level outcomes will streamline public university systems as they eliminate less lucrative majors – such as early childhood education, performing arts and theology.

“Sad to say,” Carnevale explains, this disruption “could be brutally efficient for higher education. Industry change is almost always about what’s next, not what’s best for the workers and institutions directly affected. Just ask an auto worker.”

Many of the colleges and universities are economic hubs, cultural centers, and civic pride outlets. I suspect that the “brutally successful” destruction of those institutions could cause more public outrage than anticipated by the Gateses.