An Educated Guest

S2 E7 | Funding Equitable Student Success

Guest: Patrick Methvin, Director of Postsecondary Success, The Gates Foundation

How can higher ed ensure everyone has the opportunity to live a healthy and productive life? That’s precisely the question The Gates Foundation seeks to answer through its US Program in Postsecondary Success.

In this episode of An Educated Guest, Todd Zipper, EVP and GM of Wiley University Services and Talent Development, welcomes Patrick Methvin, Director of Postsecondary Success at The Gates Foundation. Todd and Patrick discuss the role of philanthropy in higher ed and how the postsecondary sector can help fulfill the promise of economic mobility for all, regardless of race, gender, or family income. 

Key Takeaways:

  • The Gates Foundation’s roots in funding education
  • The importance of higher ed advancing socioeconomic mobility
  • How their education funding stacks from K-12 to postsecondary to the workforce
  • Postsecondary funding areas The Gates Foundation targets
  • How the Foundation seeks to close attainment gaps 

Guest Bio

Patrick Methvin is the Director of Postsecondary Success at The Gates Foundation. He oversees work designed to significantly increase the number of Americans achieving post-high school credentials and eliminate educational attainment disparities by race and income. 

Previously, Patrick served as a principal in the Boston Consulting Group’s Social Impact and Consumer Goods Practice Areas. In this role, he supported higher ed institutions in managing operating model changes required by their rapidly changing funding environments.

Patrick holds an MBA from the Wharton School, a master’s in educational leadership from the University of Pennsylvania, and a BA in Economics and Political Science from the University of North Carolina.

Podcast Transcript

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Speaker 1:

You’re listening to An Educated Guest, a podcast that brings together great minds in higher Ed to delve deeper into the innovations and trends guiding the future of education and careers, hosted by the Executive Vice President and GM of Wiley University Services and Talent Development, Todd Zipper.

Todd Zipper:

Hello. I am Todd Zipper, host of An Educated Guest. On today’s show I speak with Patrick Methvin,, US Program Director of Postsecondary Success at the Gates Foundation. Guided by the foundation’s belief that everyone deserves the chance to lead a healthy, productive life, Patrick oversees initiatives to increase access to post-secondary education. He aims to significantly increase the number of Americans achieving a post high school credential and eliminate educational attainment disparities by race and income. The key takeaways from our discussion today, first, how the Gates Foundation’s broad philanthropic journey begin in education and intersects with other areas of philanthropy. Second, why the foundation is working to support socioeconomic mobility by advancing today’s most exemplary innovations in higher Ed. Third, how each education funding area stacks onto the next from K-12 to post-secondary to workforce pathways. Fourth, why the foundation targets the areas of innovation, data and information, transformation and policy advocacy to move the needle in post-secondary education. And fifth, how the foundation seeks to close attainment gaps through more equitable admissions, flexible degree pathways, improve credit mobility and more. Hello, Patrick. And thank you so much for being here today on An Educated Guest.

Patrick Methvin:

Thanks, Todd. Great to be here.

Todd Zipper:

All right. So before we get started, I’d love to hear how you got to your current position at the Gates Foundation.

Patrick Methvin:

So education, to some degree, is in my blood. My mom was a third grade educator in Houston, Texas where I was born. I recall as the son of an educator, at the end of your day, you’d go into your parents’ classroom and you wait for their day to end. And I distinctly recall when I was about six or seven, I think I might have been kindergarten or first grade, going into our classroom sitting there and there were families waiting for parent-teacher conferences. I had a chance to meet with one of the families once, she was teaching for context in an area of Houston. It was about 70% dual language learners, mostly Mexican-American immigrants, and I had a conversation with a family through their third grader who was translating for them.

And I asked how long they’d been in the school and they said, “Well, we just recently moved from Mexico,” and I said, “Oh, okay, why’d you move from Mexico?” And they talked about something called opportunity, which is a kindergartner, that word only means so much to you. They said then opportunity was very focused on education, and I said, “Well that makes sense,” and they liked my mom because she did education. And so as a six-year-old, here are the connections being made in my little brain is, “Do education and people will like you.” It wasn’t about opportunity or equity or any of those things we talk about now. It was as simple as that, and so that really stayed with me in my work and my education for some time. I took a random left-hand turn in college, which as a junior, I was volunteering at a local middle school and my mentor there, the assistant principal asked me, “Well, what are you going to do after undergrad?”

And we talked a little bit about it and she said, “You’re really good at problem-solving. You should look into management consulting.” I had never heard of that. I’d never heard of those two terms and those two terms put together. I ended up interviewing with a few firms and before I knew it, I was starting a career with a Boston Consulting Group. Over time, I got a chance to launch their education practice, so I’ve worked across all the way from early learning up to workforce. And I went to grad school, I did my MBA as well as a Master’s in Educational Leadership. And around that time, big foundations like Gates and Broad and Dell were actually engaging with management consultants to do some of the work, to do strategies with some of their partners, and so when I came back to BCG after grad school, they said, “Hey, you can stick around here and do that kind of work.”

I had the opportunity to work with the Gates Foundation, both in location, like supporting the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction and then some work in some areas in Georgia and otherwise, as well as coming up to Seattle to consult for the foundation itself. And as is the case in many consulting sorts of things, you get to know a lot of the folks. And a few years later I got a call it said, “Hey, we have a new director over in the Postsecondary team. He’s looking to hire a few deputies. You have knowledge of the foundation, you’ve been doing a lot of work in higher education. Would this be of interest to you?” So I came in about nine years ago as a deputy director. I focused on how to scale evidence-based practices, and my predecessor, Dan Greenstein, left about four years ago. He’s now the head of the PASSHE System, the Pennsylvania Association. I stepped into the role, so I’ve been in the director seat for about four years now.

Todd Zipper:

Excellent. So I’m really interested in learning more about the work you’re doing to fund post-secondary education. So let’s jump right in. I understand Microsoft and the Gates has built a technological empire and amassed really an enormous wealth from that. But what compelled the foundation to begin funding Education and the Career Pathways sector?

Patrick Methvin:

Yeah. So first, I just wanted to say thank you for having me on today, Todd. Regarding the impetus for Bill and Melinda’s philanthropic endeavors, while we’re predominantly known for things like global health and development, their initial funding was actually to US libraries. So there’s always been a thread to learning, and that’s in the late 1900s is when they started the library’s work. It was really their journey though of understanding the world and some nudging by Bill’s father, Bill Gates Sr, that around 2000, he took them to a place of really going all in on philanthropy. And they now actually have over 30 different strategies, they invest in those range from trying to eradicate polio to work in agriculture, to gender equity. And all of these different strategies are held together by belief that everyone deserves the opportunity to live a healthy and productive life. Now, that may be a focus of under five mortality and nutrition in some parts of the world or financial inclusion in other parts of the world. In the United States, they could have chosen any number of things.

We have our share of issues here that are preventing that statement from becoming true, but they decide to focus on education. Now, this first manifested in the Gates Millennium Scholars Program, started in 1999. It then carried forward into the emergence of our K-12 strategy a few years later, and then it expanded from there. Interestingly, it’s actually Warren Buffett’s generosity in 2006 that created the initial funding for the post-secondary strategy which I’m the director of. He made a commitment to Bill and Melinda of, I think, 20 or $30 billion at that time. And the foundation immediately stepped back and said, “Wow, that’s probably more than our existing strategies could absorb,” so they ended up adding new strategies. The Postsecondary Success was one of those. We have since added an early learning strategy in our education space, as well as a few cross-cutting strategies like one focused on USP data and one focused on US Program Pathways, so things that bridge across multiple strategies.

Todd Zipper:

Excellent. So let’s take a step back for a moment to understand the big picture here. How should we think about the influence of philanthropy on higher education?

Patrick Methvin:

That’s a broad question that you almost need to segment it into a number of different things. So first, let’s acknowledge the vast majority of philanthropic dollars in higher education go to individual institutions, and in many cases have very little to do with equitable student success. This could be everything from athletic boosters to folks dedicating buildings, to major research efforts. For instance, the Gates Foundation investment, we actually invest more money in higher education institutions in our global health work than we do in our post-secondary work because they’re funding vaccine development, data systems, all kinds of different things. And I think frankly, that speaks to the immense diversity of what happens in higher education in this country. So that’s said, caveat aside, philanthropies had a pretty critical role in a number of fronts from founding new institutions, and that ranges from the very first institutions in the country, the first wave of liberal arts institutions like Harvard and Yale, to centuries later, a wave of research institutions like Stanford, Duke, Johns Hopkins.

But when we narrow into the space that we operate in, and let’s call that the Equitable Student Success movement, the vast majority of these resources are steered still by alums to their alma maters, so seed funding for new programs like an emergency aid effort, things like that. There’s not a big comparison between those individual donations to their alma maters and stuff like the national philanthropies that are out there, of which I would consider ours one. If you drill into that, so think about the foundations that are funding equitable student success right now, foundations like ours, you have a handful of national student success funders with annual budgets of let’s say 20 million or more. Then you have a long tail of regional funders who are investing, I don’t know, five to $20 million a year, but collectively all of those put together are still somewhere south of $1 billion per year.

So if you add in corporate philanthropy, the JP Morgans of the world, et cetera, that number increases still not dramatically. No matter how you slice it, we’re talking about one-tenth of 1% of higher education funding at the most, is coming from philanthropy focused on equitable student success. However, it is flexible money, it is reform oriented, so in some ways it does have greater impact than the small percentage lets on. Those resources do everything from program development work to evaluating those programs to a little bit of policy advocacy even though those national funders I mentioned, only a few of them step into the policy advocacy space. So maybe that’s where I drill it down from that big question about philanthropy into the type of work that we do.

Todd Zipper:

That’s helpful. Because I know we spend over $600 billion a year on higher education, and obviously there’s private pay, there’s loans, there’s public subsidies and there’s philanthropy. But it’s hard to think about philanthropy because like you said, there’s massive multi-billion dollar endowments which are largely driven by philanthropy, but what percentage of those funds actually go to funding, like you said, this equitable Higher Ed movement, that’s really interesting. So let’s keep moving here. How do you think about the Gates Foundation as a big player in this space? I read somewhere that, I think, in 2020 Gates donated 5.8 billion across all your funding areas, which is just astounding just to think about that in one single year. Is Postsecondary a large percentage of that? Just to give us a sense, I mean, what you’re publicly available to share, how much are you actually funding within that bucket?

Patrick Methvin:

Sure. So I’m happy to say all of our grants are publicly available records. Currently, we’re investing in the post-secondary strategy about $140 million per year from our Postsecondary Success team. If you include funding that comes from a few of our cross-functional teams, the one I mentioned about US Data and Pathways, that adds another 20 to 30 million that finds its way into the higher education to workforce sector at the moment. It’s, I’d say a medium sized strategy within the foundation. We invest a significant, significant amount of money in global strategies, our global health, global development, et cetera. I’d say US Programs, which houses all of the education strategies is less than 20% right now of overall foundation giving.

Todd Zipper:

Great. So if we could just really frame what it is in post-secondary that the foundation is trying to solve. Is there a mission statement? Is there something that really, I mean, you’ve been touching on it, but maybe it’s worth just underscoring that for us?

Patrick Methvin:

Yeah. So back to what I mentioned, it binds us all together, all the various strategies together. We ultimately exist to help give everyone the opportunity to live a healthy and productive life. So specifically, we want to support higher education institutions in fulfilling the promise of being engines of social and economic mobility in this country. That means increasing Postsecondary’s role in creating equitable economic mobility, ensuring that race, gender, family income are no longer predictors of post-secondary success or economic mobility the way they are if you take a look at the data right now.

Todd Zipper:

So is there any outcomes? I remember when President Obama came into office, it was very prominent if you were working in higher Ed. I want to bring the graduation rate from 40% or college attainment rate rather from 40% to 6%, which is a massive goal of increasing by 50%, which is not an easy thing to do because that’s just wasn’t how the trends were going. I don’t think we’ve gotten anywhere near that. Certainly, I think we’ve made progress. Is there some of these meta goals that then would symbolize that you’re hitting on those larger impact areas you’re trying to do?

Patrick Methvin:

Todd, I’m really glad you mentioned the attainment goals because it’s an important part of our history as a reform movement and a good jumping off point for our future. I might actually suggest we wind the clock back to say midway through the 20th century for a little bit of context on how these goals have evolved over time. 1940s, ’50s, the field was focused on access. You saw the GI bill, the expansion of community colleges, Pell Grants were started if you extend that to the ’60s. By the early 2000s, we certainly couldn’t claim success on access, massive increases in access, but not equitable access, but things started to change. You saw the Spellings Commission 2006. It flagged issues with the completion. Frankly, that was one of the first times we, as a field, looked across the entire sector and saw the completion rates which were not a pretty picture.

And that really fed the post-secondary attainment conversation. I think you just referenced labor economists like Tony Carnevale at GCEW. They projected the need for 65% of the workforce to have PS credentials by 2025. So philanthropy took up that mantle with great work from folks like Lumina and Kresge, and then actually the Gates Foundation came in around 2007 under that banner as well, and you saw states take up big goals. The whole sector of technical assistance providers and nonprofits sprung up around it to accomplish those goals. And after about, I’d say, 10 years of earnest work on this so-called completion movement, we have seen as you mentioned, Todd, steady increases in grad rates and in population attainment levels, roughly one percentage point increase per year for about a decade. Not bad, but these gains were not equitable and with massive increases in student debt, and folks realized that talking about completion was ultimately not going to be enough.

And so while those goals have been and continue to be tremendously helpful, they’re not as explicit about two things. One, who receives those credentials. That’s a big equity question in my mind. Two, does it leave them better off? And so those two questions, I think, are going to dictate the next wave of the reform movement because if you think about some of the disparities in college completion or attainment look bad, you should take a look at family income and wealth generation disparities that you see by race or by starting family income including people who have graduated from college. And that tells you, we’ve got to move the bar a little bit on this one, and so I think that takes us to the next wave of the Student Success movement, one that is focused on equitable economic mobility, what some people refer to as equitable value, what others refer to as inclusive excellence. There’s a number of names floating around out there.

For our part, we launched the Postsecondary Value Commission a few years ago with luminaries from Higher Education Administration, former secretaries of Education. Actually, the secretary Spelling who was a driver of the previous wave, was a member of this. Faculty researchers, industry leaders, students to help us figure out how to define value, ways to measure it in an action agenda around it. So our overarching goal, to get to your question, Todd, is to support the field’s transition to this new paradigm. And at the end of the day, it builds on the completion movement because we know the largest single variable on whether there is a return on that investment in education is did you attain that credential? If you leave with debt and no degree, that is a negative return on that investment in many cases. If you leave with a degree, the numbers show it is still the most secure path to economic mobility in this country.

So what we’re doing specifically within the strategy goal wise, we have two goals underneath that. So one of those goals is to work with a network of partners to support 200 colleges in transforming themselves that will dramatically and equitably increase completion rates and post-secondary value. There’s a particular emphasis on institutions serving black Latino indigenous students and students from low income backgrounds. We’ve seen this work happen at a smaller scale. I mean, we funded things like Completion by Design where a little more than 10 institutions came in. They set goals, they hit those goals, completion related goals, attainment related goals. That’s excellent. Then you saw it in the Guided Pathways movement where we started seeing 30 colleges come together in a national movement. We’re actually seeing movement on those too. The question that we have on that one though is, as you increase in scope the infrastructure needed to drive and support that work changes.

And so we’re looking at 200 institutions supported by about six intermediaries to say, “What do we need to learn about doing this work at scale that could potentially inform future policy funded efforts?” Because like there’s not enough money in philanthropy to drive that over 4,000 Title IV receiving institutions, and so that’s really our first goal, is to see success there. And that’s a multi-year goal, that doesn’t happen overnight. This is a seven-year program. The second is, while we are supporting these 200 institutions, is to develop what we consider public goods that could help many more institutions navigate that change process. So are there things like data resources, frameworks for institutional change that are coming out of that first goal that we want to share broadly even with institutions maybe that don’t have the support of this specific program? So those are really the two things we’re doing, is support this work of transformation at scale and then create some public goods that’ll help others do that in the future.

Todd Zipper:

That’s great. So before we just keep honing in on the post-secondary strategy, I know the gates does a lot of work around K-12 and the career pathways, and so specifically around career pathways because increasingly higher education is being viewed as career connected. How is this going to help a student with this credential in their career, in their promotions? Can you maybe give that dynamic on how you all are working, whether you run that pathway sector or how you work in concert with that group?

Patrick Methvin:

Sure. For context, we fund throughout the entire education continuum, we have an early learning strategy, a K-12 strategy, a post-secondary strategy. And each strategy objective, interestingly is to support momentum on the next step, so for the early learning team, they want to support good momentum in K-12. If you look at their strategy documents, it’s not just like, “Did you graduate from high school?” It is about the momentum in post-secondary as well. And so ours, when I talk about equitable value is to prove out that, “You received your credential, we’re going to increase grad rates, but is it leading to upward economic mobility?” And so that’s a bit of the tie together. There’s three places that I would say we’re pretty focused on some of the elements of career pathways, although I would not consider us a funder who is squarely in the career pathway space the way some funders are.

So the first is… Well, obviously in post-secondary, some of the things that we are doing related to the Equitable Value movement is, how do institutions transform themselves to show that they are not just working on completion but upward economic mobility? And so you are seeing institutions like I’d like to flag Northern Arizona University if you look at, they’re redefining their mission and goals and strategic plans specifically related to that. There will probably be implications for programs of study, how much resources are provided in counseling for students related to their first job out of institution, things of that nature. So you see a bit of that in how it’s flavoring the completion movement work that we’re doing. There’s a second place we do that work, which is our US pathways work, which is for the most part a bridge between the K-12 team, the Postsecondary team and workforce.

And so they’re looking at some of these things that range from, how do you blur the lines between these? So whether that’s about the AA by 13 type work, which is related to dual enrollment, some of the P-tech work that I’m sure you’re familiar with. We’re really hoping, as early as junior year of high school, we’re setting students up to have momentum in post-secondary and, or in the workforce, and so you’re looking at some of these models that are blending a few different things there. And then the last place we’re doing this is a strategy that sits within US Programs but is not an education specific strategy, and that’s a strategy called our Economic Mobility and Opportunity team.

They are looking specifically at a population of individuals who are a little bit older than what you’d see in our K-12 and even in some of the post-secondary sub metrics. They already are in a job likely, but it’s probably a low wage, low mobility job and they’re looking for ways to take that next step up. Sometimes that leads you to returning to college, sometimes that leads you to alternative certification type programs, and so they’re playing in that space a little bit as well. So those are the three areas that we touch on a little bit, although not as deliberately as I think some funders do in the space.

Todd Zipper:

Excellent. So I want to talk about the four focus areas, but before we do, you talked about this 140 million and even more, what is the process to become a grantee of the portfolio? I mean, I’m sure it’s a pretty rigorous process to get funds from the Gates Foundation.

Patrick Methvin:

It is. And I think this is where you get into different philanthropic models because you could say you’ve met one philanthropy, you’ve met one philanthropy in terms of what you know about the sector. And I appreciate, frankly there is a great diversity of philanthropic models out there making a lot of headlines over the past few years as been MacKenzie Scott work. She’s doing amazing trust-based philanthropy. She’s basically saying, “Who’s most proximate to the populations that I want to support with these dollars?” And she’s providing general operating funds for them to decide the strategies and how to go about that, so that’s one end of the spectrum. You see different models where their funders just focus on a specific topic, and so they just fund folks who are in specific topics. Ours is referred to historically as, quote, unquote, “strategic philanthropy,” perhaps, techno philanthropy because it is technocratic in its approach.

The way we go about is, we set our strategies. We have living board members, donors, they have their interest. Those interests drove what topics they’re working in, whether that’s about malaria or polio or post-secondary education. And then within those they expect their leadership teams to develop one, a deep identification of, “What are the issues, and where do we want to go? What are our aspirations, and then what are the levers for change that we see?” And so every one of our strategies including mine has a handful. You talked about focus areas, even underneath that there’s specific topics we will invest under our focus area. We go through a pretty rigorous approach to working with our board and co-chairs to get those strategies approved. What are the topics, where do you see leverage to drive change? What kinds of partners do you want to be working with?

And then basically we have our program officers go out and prospect. Occasionally, that manifest in RFPs where there are open RFPs, we put out a topic and say, “Hey, who can help us with that?” Sometimes it’s a direct investment where we see a partner doing great work and we say, “Hey, we’d like to work with you on that.” We generally speaking, do not just have open call for unsolicited investments. I’ve seen that in some places, and the flood of that would have implications for how many staff we would need. But I think the RFP is a mechanism we’ve been using more and more frequently to open up the aperture a little bit to find actually new partners, new grantees. The nature of those, how we invest, it actually depends on the portfolio. So if it’s policy advocacy, the way we go about selecting partners, what we expect, how do we go about funding choices is going to be different than if we’re doing technology innovation in our digital learning work.

We look for specific competencies in each different area. I will say across the board, we are looking for strong equity related competencies. Why is that so? That’s because of the same fact that I mentioned earlier. If you look at the past 10 years of the Student Success movement, and you could see increases in completion rates. You didn’t see opportunity gaps by race and income closing, and so we know that there’s specific competencies that we need our partners to have to drive that field in a different way, and so that’s one that goes across those. After that it really goes into the specific portfolios, it’s like if it’s a technology portfolio, we’re looking for these things. If it’s a network portfolio, we’re looking for these things. If it’s policy advocacy, we’re looking for these things.

Todd Zipper:

Well, great. So let’s jump into the four focus areas. Can you give us a little overview of each of those and maybe we’ll dive in one by one?

Patrick Methvin:

Sure. So we have one area that’s focused on policy advocacy where the perspective on that, areas that we are funding, I’ll just crassly put it as money and measures, which is from a measurement perspective, what do we have data wise, and measurement and evaluation wise to tell us where we should go as a field? And there’s a lot of innovation that’s happening on the data front right now. Sometimes at the state level, occasionally at the federal level you can see improvements, for instance the college scorecard that have happened recently. Some states like Texas are doing amazing things connecting workforce in educational data, and that is opening up huge new insights, and there’s a lot of policy implications to that as you can imagine, so that’s the measures. The money part of that is actually, how are you funding this? And there’s huge public dollars that are going from the federal government, from the state government and community governments, and if we think we’re going to achieve equitable outcomes without equitable funding, then we’re kidding ourselves, and you can see that.

You can see that in funding formulas in almost every single state. You can see it in how community colleges are funding. You can see how that MSIs are underfunded to the tune of billions and billions of dollars over time. We’re actually starting to see lawsuits about that in states like Maryland and otherwise with regards to public HBCUs versus others, and so there’s a whole set of policy advocacy agenda items that we have. The second is a deep dive underneath that on data and information because there are some parts of that learning and evaluation that don’t happen through policy related grants where it’s like, “We want to study this, we want to research this, et cetera.” The third that I would call out we refer to it as innovation, but I would argue everything we’re doing has an innovation thread, but this is innovation first student facing work.

So what have we learned about loss and momentum points for students throughout their educational career? We started in that space with a heavy emphasis on developmental education reform because we saw what happens when folks entered into college. They get slated three levels down in developmental education, and it’s not even barely single digits made it through all the way because there’s so many barriers that were put up, so what are we learning about programmatically needs to be changed there. Another area that I’d call out is about the promise of digital technologies to support teaching and learning. And we’ve learned a lot about that one over the past decade plus which is, how do you support a faculty member? Because predominantly we’re investing in blended modality work, so it means you’re doing some work at home likely with technology and then some work with the faculty member live in the classroom.

How do you support that faculty member to best use their time and get insights from the technology, and personalize the work for the student along the way? So there’s work there. And then the final that I would say is around advising some of the more holistic student supports. We think technology actually has a role to play in that to support the people and processes that happen at the institutions as well, and so there’s a set of things related to innovation that we invest in. And then the final one is, to some degree, the aggregation of those innovations. We call it transformation, and we are doing that at the institutional level and at scale. And for us transformation, the way we look at that is that it is a realignment of an institution’s structures, culture, business model to create a student experience that results in dramatic and equitable increases in outcomes and educational values.

Now, do those innovations have a role to play in that? Absolutely [inaudible 00:28:03] institutions are becoming more student-centric. Will you redesign developmental education? Absolutely. Will you think about the role of technology? Absolutely. But the transformation portfolio looks more broadly than just those solutions. What’s the chief financial officer’s role in this whole thing to allocate resources. Everyone has a role to play in that change process, and so that’s a piece that we look at there. And then the second flavor of that is, then how do you do that at scale? So when I mentioned earlier the infrastructure required to share knowledge, to network around a number of institutions to support their path, we fund networks to do that too, so the transformation piece has a couple of components there.

Todd Zipper:

So many questions out of this, but I’m going to start where you left off around transformation, and I know you’ve done work with some of these that we often call them in my world the mega nonprofits. So you’ve gotten to scale an innovation at the institutional level, let’s say Western Governor’s University, 150,000 students, something like that. Competency-based education, certainly driving costs down, certainly driving equity from everything that I can see, and so this is working. I guess, my question to you, and it’s interesting how you framed it as the institutional transformation at scale, but I’ve watched that story play out over 15 years and it’s not like that model has now scaled to dozens of other institutions that are now changing the game for higher education. So could you maybe reflect on that example or other examples you’re seeing, and how it might jump from the institutional transformation that’s working to the scale transformation that I… Maybe I’m getting the analogy wrong that you guys are pursuing, but that’s how I saw that you lay that out for us.

Patrick Methvin:

No, absolutely, Todd. And I might actually say there’s probably two flavors of the type of transformational work we’re doing. The first, the one that we’re working with networks on predominantly is really amplifying student centricity in every action through a series of continuous improvement processes that over time will then shift structures, cultures and business models, but probably not dramatically different than the framework that you’re seeing in higher education right now. So people talk about Georgia State, Sinclair College, I mentioned North Arizona University is a great example. These are folks that are changing the student experience. But at the end of the day, if you look at the institution, it doesn’t look dramatically different at a high, high level than it did five, 10 years ago. I think they’re allocating their resources differently, they’re doing different things from a structural perspective. However, the other flavor, I think what you just mentioned, we refer to them as National Scale Enterprises because frankly, the pattern we’re seeing in those examples, whether that’s Arizona State, Western governors or Southern New Hampshire, and there are others out there, they really are entrepreneurial and they operate like an enterprise.

You see all of these partnerships that they’re building, it looks very, very different than a, quote, unquote, “traditional institution”, And so I’ll maybe answer your questions on that for a moment because we’ve been funding them for a few years now. Two things, one, they have continued to grow at dramatic paces. I was actually speaking at WGU’s 25th anniversary celebration in Salt Lake City the other day. And you look at the growth in that model and it is stunning. Same thing for Southern New Hampshire, same thing for Arizona State, although each one of those has very different models in their own right. And so it is scaling, these are institutions that, I think, right now are making up about 3% of the total market of US higher education. I would expect that they will probably double that market share if you look at their growth trajectories within the next seven years.

And there are others like them that are paying attention, that are innovating, they’re using infrastructure and scale as a positive, whether that’s the Maryland Global, the Kaplan, the Purdues of the world, Penn State Global, there’s a handful. There’s another tier of those that we have not engaged with as deeply. And so I hear you on the lag to get that model all the way at scale, but if you look at those individual institutions ramp up, it’s a pretty significant growth rate. At times, policy has limited that, so you look at competency base, we’re really still in the experimental phase in terms of what federal dollars, which is really the lifeblood of these institutions can go for. So sometimes that’s policy, sometimes frankly, that’s just about capabilities of leaders who want to jump into this sector. Our role interestingly there, particularly with the three institutions I mentioned, is not necessarily about funding their growth.

They’re going to grow. They have the skills, they have the infrastructure, they have the capacity to grow. Our role is as a critical friend on the equity front, which is to say, “Just because they’re growing at dramatic growth rates, it doesn’t mean that they have addressed the equity opportunity we see in front of us.” And so we’ve been funding them to do two things, look at your current student population, whether that’s 60,000 or 120,000, what kinds of innovations would it take for you to be an exemplar on closing opportunity gaps by race or by income? And these are innovative places, and they’re coming up with all kinds of interesting approaches to do that, and they have a great command of their data to engage in that. And then the second piece is, as you grow, which you will, how do you grow in an equitable way?

So not skimming student populations, that it’ll be easy to get grad increases for, but actually going after where the greatest need is. And you see them responding in amazing ways, whether you look at Arizona’s ASU Local where they’re going into neighborhoods and setting up shop and saying, “Hey, we see that this neighborhood is underserved. We see, as some folks refer to it as education deserts or things like that.” So that’s really our engagement with those three is, how do we help them with innovation as a critical friend on the equity front. And then yes, we are looking to partner with others who are in a similar vein as we’re all going forward. I expect this is going to continue to grow. Frankly, as many of the for-profit institutions come under greater scrutiny from the current administration, those students are going to go somewhere. And so I see these national scale players picking up a lot of the students there, and frankly applying some of the lessons from the for-profit providers on how they leverage scale to increase access.

Todd Zipper:

That’s great. I’m going to jump to data and information. There are a couple of areas that I want to jump into here, so just bear with me. The first is, you’ve mentioned something earlier around the college scorecard, and that’s something that really piqued my interest when the Obama Administration launched it as a way to say, “Hey, we’re going to now create transparency around outcomes at this particular college and this particular program that somewhat enroll in.” I don’t know if it’s had the intended benefits of what I would argue, sending the right market signals to the institutions, the funders meeting the Department of Ed and the students of saying, “This program will probably put you on the right path for the career, salary, et cetera.” So I guess, my question here is, is Gates trying to help, whether it’s the college scorecard or another way to measure these outcomes, to hopefully lead us in a different path of $1.6 trillion of debt that now is largely or partially going to get eliminated, which doesn’t seem like it’s going to correct, I guess, the system of what led to that, any thoughts on this front?

Patrick Methvin:

Yeah, a few. So one, there still is a data availability challenge. If you think about the data that the scorecard is based on, it does have limitations. It’s actually one of the reasons why we have been pretty substantial funders of the national student Clearinghouse’s post-secondary data partnership. Because one of the things is when we engage on programmatic investments and we take a look at how are you going to see the impact of this investment on, let’s say a transfer student or let’s say a racially minoritized student who may not be tracked in iPads, so where do you get that information? If we say we’re going to drive an equitable completion movement, then you’re going to have to disaggregate that data. So we’ve been big funders in things like the National Student Clearinghouse PDP that does have the ability to do that as it pertains to the workforce linkage.

There are some limitations at a federal level right now. The College Transparency Act made it through the house this year for the first time with bipartisan support. It didn’t make it completely over the line on that front, that would allow for some of these linkages to make that data even more robust. In the meantime, we’re working with a group that we’ve set up facilitated by IHEP, the Institute for Higher Education Policy called the Value Data Collaborative. And it’s a handful of states that are saying, “We want help linking that education workforce data,” and so they’re going after that to try to get some of the insights that a state like Texas that has some phenomenal data infrastructure can get. And so we’re trying to provide use cases of what that could look like before trying the broader federal play ends up playing out if it doesn’t in the near term.

And so there’s first the data availability play. Once you have that data then it’s about how do you influence folks? And I think that’s when the path goes in different directions. There’s certain versions of that, that a policymaker would want to see to say, “In my state, wow, this open access in a regional comprehensive institution appears to be this amazing engine of economic mobility.” Maybe they heard that anecdotally from the Ratchet Data, but this is an institution that gets no awareness because everyone’s focused over here on that flagship. Well, maybe we should be steering money behind that, so there’s a flavor of insights that need to go to a policymaker. It’s a very different flavor of insights that need to go to a student or family making a decision, and that’s where, I think, part of underneath what’s under your question, Todd, I believe is what would that take it?

And frankly, that takes really good consumer insights and thinking about the interface in a very different way. There’s all kind of ROI calculators floating around out there even without great data, and I don’t think we’ve cracked that nut. Frankly, the students and the families who are most likely to use those things are already, in many cases because their parent went to college, they have the navigational supports. They’re probably going to do okay either way, and so what you’ve really got to figure out is, how do you reach out to the students who don’t come maybe from a family with a college-going history to put the power of that knowledge in their hands. And after we solve some of the data issues, I think that’s going to be a new frontier of that type of work.

Todd Zipper:

Absolutely. I think if you don’t measure it, you don’t manage it principle. I mean, I think we’ve got to get a little bit better data insights, and then hopefully folks like the Gates Foundation can get that in the hands of folks that need it. Another question, is related to data and information. I’ve got a junior in high school, he’s taken the SATs, and it was interesting to watch the movement around the pandemic where the SAT, ACT became optional for getting… And this is for anybody going to college, this is the rite of passage that we all have to take. This is a big deal to go optional, and I think some of the schools have kept the optional thing post pandemic even though I guess, we’re post pandemic now, I’ll say. You guys are studying this right now, I believe with the University of Maryland. Any sort of insights, any thoughts on what you’re hoping to bring out of that?

Patrick Methvin:

I love that question, Todd, because this is a great manifestation of the interest of our board members, what I’ll refer to as our co-chairs, Bill and Melinda and our work. So I got a note from Melinda a couple of years ago. And at the time, their youngest was a senior in high school, so their youngest was going through the process, Todd, that you just mentioned. He had taken the SAT, we’re looking at applications, et cetera. And there was a lot of conversation at their school about admission rates to selective institutions and a lot of hypotheses floating around, is this going to be good for equity? Is this going to be harmful? What does that mean? And so she comes to me with her own lived experience and said, “Patrick, what do we know about this? Is this actually going to be good for our strategy and our focus populations, et cetera?”

And so I said, “You know what? There’s a lot of hypotheses floating around. There’s some old data on a few institutions that have done that in the past. There’s some new context where this is happening at a much larger scale, and some institutions are saying, “We’re not going back from that,” and I don’t want this to be a political answer, which you could already probably see the emergence of this certain sides were being taken about whether this is good or bad.” Frankly, there was very little data behind the people taking those positions. So at the foundation, we believe in truth, we believe in studying the data from a nonpartisan perspective. And I said, “Melinda, let me get back to you. We’re going to fund a few partners. You mentioned one. Another one is EQRC, which is a collaboration focused on equity in research.”

And we said, we’re going to study it objectively and see what we find. And so they’re looking at a number of different elements from that. That question is going to differ dramatically based on institutional selectivity. And you can see that playing out actually in application rates to the most, quote, unquote, “prestigious,” or highly selective institutions and is very related to this. And so I think what we’re probably going to find is a few different answers to that one single question, which is it plays out differently in different types of institutions. And I think it’s going to signal that there’s a broader issue here. It is not just about the admissions testing, but it’s about the overall admissions process because we’re already seeing in some places where you poke on one part of the admissions process and other things fill that gap.

So for us to think that, for instance, recommendation letters or things like the number of extracurriculars you have, to think that there aren’t equity implications in terms of who has access time and availability of those, would be naive, and so we need to look at this holistically at the end of the day. And the admissions piece is one critical part of that, and I think it’s one that captivates the public’s imagination because exactly what you just mentioned is, you’re going through that as a parent. And so I think that’s going to be the tip of the spear to a broader conversation about admissions.

Todd Zipper:

Fascinating. I’m going to switch gears to the student support area of focus for you all, and I think this, topic transfer credits, would probably fit under this. I read a stat that on average, learners lose 43% of their credits when transferring to a different college university, which is just astounding. And within the California public system, transfer students ends up paying $36,000 more for their Bachelor’s degree on average. Are you funding any projects to really help, this lost time? Because we know so many students end up stopping college, sitting out, transferring for one reason or another, and it seems like the system itself, there’s just a lot of breakage in all this.

Patrick Methvin:

So we have over different periods of time funded what I would say more traditional approaches to the transfer issue, and by that I mean, we’ll fund policy advocates to say what are the policies that will address that? And you’ll see those getting rolled out in states and then you realize, “Okay, the policy can say this, but at the end of the day, institutions and frankly, faculty chairs in certain departments, they’re going to decide whether this happens or not.” So then you go to the other end of the spectrum and you fund interesting collaboratives between maybe two year, four year feeder college relationships, and then you see this is happening in bespoke ways with great results and little pockets, but then it’s not going to scale because you don’t have the policy reinforcement. So we have funded that at different points in time and that is an area of significant interest in the broader post-secondary philanthropic community.

What we’re trying right now, is we have a couple of investments to look at this in a slightly different way, so one of those is with Arizona State University. It is part of what they call the trusted learner network, and it’s an acknowledgement of they’re trying to create as many flexible pathways for students who have some credits, whether it’s from community college or from a four-year institution, and they want to apply that into a very specific pathway, and so they’re doing a few things. One, they’re using technology to basically mine the transcripts to match that with machine learning et cetera, to the requirements in their specific areas, programs of study at Arizona State to see what credit would be articulated and honored.

The second thing which I think is particularly cool is, then they’re working to then say, “Not just will we honor that credit, but if you apply those credits and you say where you want to go in terms of what program of study, what major, et cetera, we can already tell you if you apply those credits towards this major, it’s going to advance you this far. If you apply those to this other major, it will advance you this far.” That creates a different level of transparency because even when you do see transfer, quote, unquote, “working,” let’s say a student has 60 credits from a community college and wants to apply them at the four-year, and let’s make a big assumption right now that the four-year institution says, “We will value all of these credits.” They may then come in and be like, “Wait, these were all gen eds, and I only needed 15 of those so I’m no better off.”

And so really figuring out what this credit to do for your pathway, that’s the important piece. So there’s some work we’re doing with Arizona State there, which is they’re partnering with a bunch of institutions to say, what would this look like? And frankly they have the ability to do that because they’re at a level of scale where it makes sense. If I’m a 10,000 person, four-year institution, doing all of that work is not going to make as much sense like some of the technology they’re investing in the partnerships because I don’t have as big of a transfer feeder pattern. Arizona State’s a national institution, they have a huge feeder pattern, this actually makes sense for them, so that’s one area we’re looking at. The other is then looking hyper-local, so we’ve invested some resources in communities that are doing really a P16 related work where they’re trying to stitch together education across the continuum.

So places like Dallas commit for instance, who are really committed to making sure that that flow of student success goes all the way through and they’re removing as many barriers as possible. So we’re taking a look at, what would that look like if a whole community came around with that? Now, that means multiple high schools, and we look at credit mobility not just as transfer because if you look at the percentage dual enrollment that’s happening right now, it’s enormous. So we actually take that credit mobility piece back to include dual enrollment and say, if you take those credits, if you look at transfer credits, if you’re filling the blank on all of those, what would that look like? In some cases they’re working with student learner wallets, things like blockchain technology and would say, “Hey, I actually own all of that information. I can share that with others.”

So sometimes technology is a part of it. I would argue in that example, it’s more about the community and the community caring. And I think frankly, there’s a better ROI, not only for the student, so less wasted credits. You gave an example of that, Todd, but actually for the taxpayer. So if you look at all the waste in that example of how many extra additional student credits that were not honored, that hits the student’s wallet. By the way, those were also subsidized by the taxpayers, that hits the taxpayer’s wallet too. I think if we could think about this more holistically from a credit mobility from high school all the way through to workforce, you’re actually going to save money in the process too. And could you funnel that money into better holistic student supports? Absolutely. That’s a great ROI. Now, you’re also increasing the completion chances as well, so those are a few ways we’re playing around with that space.

Todd Zipper:

Awesome. So we’re getting wrapped up here. Thank you so much for your time. So just a couple of final questions. You look out three to five years, you’re still running the Postsecondary group, what does success look like for you in your role in the institution and maybe higher education? What are the major drivers that you want to see play out?

Patrick Methvin:

So I think success is a few things there, one that we’re learning because when I look at what we’ve been able to build on from investments that were made 10 years ago, five years ago, et cetera, all of the stuff we’re doing now builds on that. So that’s the first thing is, we really become the learning organization that’s going to help advance then what the next wave of the work would be. The second is that we’re seeing promise on that first goal that I mentioned, which is supporting transformation at scale. And if you say five years, that’s still relatively early in that, but probably we’re seeing some early key performance indicators moving like some of the gatekeeper course completion, maybe retention, a few of those. You’re not going to see completion rates changing from those quite yet, but we see early signs of that. And that we’re seeing from the community of partners, the institutions, the intermediaries that I’ve mentioned, other expert technical assistance providers that they’re seeing value in that, that it’s helpful.

There’s a few pieces around that. The other is more thematic, which is that we’re seeing, as I mentioned, the failures of the past 10 years of the completion movement specifically related to equity are getting deeply embedded in everything we do, so that could be everything from digital learning work that I mentioned on courseware, that you’re seeing much more culturally responsive pedagogy getting embedded in that, both with faculty, professional development and in the technology itself because you look at that technology space, it is not the most diverse space. It frankly, doesn’t represent broader higher education, certainly not the student population. And so for me that would be a win because that’s going to be a leading indicator towards whether we’re going to see equity in the outcomes.

Todd Zipper:

Excellent. Is there any takeaways that one thing that you’d want our audience to understand from this conversation today?

Patrick Methvin:

So I’ll just double down on that last comment, which is I talked about how we see the need to shift the Student Success movement to a greater focus on equitable value. We are in a moment when equity is being talked about a lot more than the past years. We need to ensure that doesn’t become a blip, and we’ve seen this. You look in the history books and you’ll see this happen over and over for a few years, and it can’t be that we’re looking back at this time and saying, “Remember that focus a few years after George Floyd,” that’s not sufficient. The systems that perpetuated inequity in higher education took centuries to construct. They are not going to disappear after two or three years of DEI working groups and whatnot. This is the work of student success, and so I think one of the things that we need to make sure that we collectively, as leaders in higher education feel accountable for is that we are retaining that focus and that we are amplifying that focus, and this does not become a blip on the screen.

Todd Zipper:

Excellent. So I asked this of all my guests. Part of what we love about education is that we all have learning champions. Who has been a learning champion for you? And how has that person helped you in your life?

Patrick Methvin:

Oh, I love that question. I’m going to skip the obligatory, my mother.

Todd Zipper:

I figure you were going to go with that one.

Patrick Methvin:

It’s too easy because I already mentioned that, that’s actually what lit the fire for me for education. And so with all due respect, “Mom, if you’re listening, I’m going to pass on that one,” and I’m going to reference a woman named Dr. Robin Martin. She joined our team in the Postsecondary team as a deputy about three and a half years ago. She recently left to start her own business. It’s called Navigating Courage, please check it out. Well, plug there on the side. I learned so much from her. Specifically, she takes such a strong humanist philosophy into her life, which really grounds everything that she thinks about and decides. And I wouldn’t say that the approach I was raised on was a humanist approach, and certainly I mentioned with you before the recording a little bit about my professional background in management consulting. That’s not always the first go-to that, that industry looks at. And so I learned so much about taking a humanist mindset and taking that stance with me into multiple places, and it’s infectious, and so maybe that’s who I’d put out there as a learning champion.

Todd Zipper:

That’s great. Patrick, thank you so much for joining me today to speak about your experience at the Gates Foundation and all the stuff you’re doing to fund and improve outcomes. Until next time, this has been An Educated Guest.

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