Bill Gates at ACCT, calls for digital education in community colleges

by Maggie Tsai | Managing Editor; photographs by G Warner | Art & Photo Editor

Bill Gates: “Community colleges change peoples’ lives.”
Bill Gates: “Community colleges change peoples’ lives.”

Technology tycoon Bill Gates was invited to be the keynote speaker at the Associate of Community College Trustees (ACCT) leadership congress on October 2nd. Hundreds of ACCT members from across the nation gathered in the Washington Convention Center to discuss the future of education of community colleges. Students from Seattle Central Community College also participated in the event, along with North Seattle Community College and Bellevue College students. Seattle Mayor Michael McGinn welcomed the guests, saying, “Community college makes Seattle a better city because it reaches to people in different backgrounds, and shares prosperity to diverse ethnicities through education.”

Digital learning system
Bill Gates opened his speech saying, “Community colleges are the most unique institution of higher education of United States because they truly change people’s lives.” According to the statistic of ACCT, about 40 % ofundergraduate students in the U.S. are enrolled in community colleges. Most community college students are from a lower-income economic background and often need to work and study at the same time. “That’s where technology should take part because good technology can freeze time and flip the classroom to create easier access of learning,” Gates claimed. By digitalizing lectures, more students and schools can share resources and great lectures. Seattle Central also launched a Massively Open Online Course (MOOC) system, a digital learning program that helps students focus on solving the obstacles to their learning. Gates said, “In this era, I believe problem-solving education is more effective than giving every student the same material and letting them stumble at the same place over and over again.”

Raising the completion rate
Higher education is facing a real crisis not only due to budgets cut by the government, but also the increasing rate of drop-outs. As a Harvard drop-out himself, Bill Gates asked two questions: does our education help student to persist? And is the material relevant to the knowledge? Time magazine reports that “36% of college graduates had not shown any significant cognitive gains over four years” and “1/2 proportion of employers surveyed said they had trouble finding qualified college graduates to hire.” These figures suggest that there is a big gap between the education provided by schools and the skills required in the workplace. This gap has an even bigger impact on community college completion rate because most students are looking for a specific goal such as transfer preparation or job training, instead of the more academic research in four-year institutes. Budget cuts leading to fewer advisors in community colleges also contribute to the decreasing completion rate, and Gates thinks this is a problem that should be emphasized. Gates said, “How to raise the completion rate is our first concern right now, by which I hope schools can develop a feedback systems so that students can get better help from the advisor and also the successful students can be role models for others.”

Not just equal but better
Some ACCT representatives asked Bill Gates, “Should education be market-driven?” Gates replied that he believed markets can create something that’s very amazing and students might get better education in a market-driven school. Gates stated: “Funding will get more difficult due to the government situation; how- ever, the demand of education would still be increasing in the future. It might be good to invite markets and investors to come in because they can take community colleges to a better level and education is definitely the best investment if you care about this country.” Gates called for more experts and philanthropists to get involved to improve the community college systems in hopes that students not only can have equal opportunities, but an opportunity to do better.

Seattle Central student representatives attend ACCT.
Seattle Central student representatives attend ACCT.

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