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Facebook for College? Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Gives $2 Million

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It’s getting harder and harder to find someone without a Facebook account—as of January 2011, the social network had over 600 million active users, many of them college students.

Hopeful that it will help improve post-secondary graduation rates in the United States, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has given $2 million in funding to a a company that created an app designed to engage a college’s future and current students by creating an online school community within Facebook.

U.S. College Graduation Rates Stagnant

President Barack Obama wants the U.S. to once again lead the world in the number of college graduates by 2020. Although first-time, full-time college student enrollment appears to be rising as the government continually points out the benefits of earning a degree, college graduation rates remain relatively stagnant.

It’s been estimated that more than 6 in 10 jobs will require some sort of postsecondary education—bachelor’s degree, associate’s degree, apprenticeship, or certificate—by 2018. One of the main goals of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is to dramatically increase the number of young people who graduate high school ready for college and career and who go on to complete a postsecondary degree or certificate.

Facebook Schools App Increases Social and Academic Integration

According to a press release issued by educational technology company Inigral, Inc. on February 9, 2011, research shows that increased social and academic integration, involvement and engagement in college can boost student learning and persistence, thereby increasing the likelihood of completion.

Developed by Inigral, the Schools App uses the Facebook Platform to “accelerate interconnectedness” and build a sense of community among college students during the admissions and orientation process as well as their freshman year.

Gates Foundation Hopes App Will Help Boost College Graduation Rates

Marking its first direct equity investment in a for-profit company, the Gates Foundation has given $2 million in program-related investment in Inigral. “The foundation’s investment in Inigral reflects our interest in supporting innovative education technology and approaches with the potential to improve student success – especially among students who are the first in their family to attend college,” said Greg Ratliff, senior program officer for Education, Postsecondary Success at the Gates Foundation, in the press release.

Inigral has been building on the Facebook Platform since 2007 and is the only company working in higher education selected by Facebook to participate in the Preferred Developer Consultant Program.

Schools App in Use at 11 Colleges

The Schools App is currently in use at eleven colleges and universities: Arizona State University, Columbia College Chicago, Maricopa Community Colleges, Stetson University and The University of Texas at Tyler. New clients include Pace University, Hofstra University, the New Jersey Institute of Technology, Savannah College of Art and Design and the Academy of Art University.

Cheerful, optimistic Schools App testimonials should help make schools as hopeful as the Gates Foundation.

“When we started looking at how we could use social media to improve our retention and build the ASU community, we knew Facebook alone wouldn’t be enough. Schools App gave us something Facebook Pages couldn’t – focused and meaningful interactions between incoming students,” said Emily Dalton Smith, Arizona State University’s Director of Student Engagement, ASU and ASU Online.

“Student activity in our Facebook app has been through the roof – our students love expressing themselves in the application. It’s great to see our students so enthusiastic about school and reaching out to other students for support and advice,” said Matt Green, Director of Online Student Communications and Student Communications at Columbia College Chicago.

In 1999, the Gates Foundation pledged $1 billion to fund college scholarships to deserving students and has since helped 13,000 high-potential, low-income students improve their lives through higher education. According to Fast Company, the Gates Foundation Inigral investment will fund introductions of the Schools App at colleges that serve lots of lower-income Pell Grant recipients.

Facebook Users Have Lower GPAs, According to 2009 Study

The Schools App wants to help keep students in college with Facebook, but a 2009 Ohio State University study found that students with Facebook accounts had significantly lower grade-point averages (GPAs) than those without.

Facebook users in the study had GPAs between 3.0 and 3.5, while non-users had GPAs between 3.5 and 4.0. It also found that 79% of Facebook members did not believe there was any link between their GPA and their networking habits, reported TIME.

Aryn Karpinski, an Ohio State doctoral candidate and co-author of the study, emphasized that the results do not necessarily mean that Facebook use leads to lower grades.“There may be other factors involved, such as personality traits, that link Facebook use and lower grades,” she said in a statement issued by Ohio State University Research News. “It may be that if it wasn’t for Facebook, some students would still find other ways to avoid studying, and would still get lower grades. But perhaps the lower GPAs could actually be because students are spending too much time socializing online,” she hypothesized.

Facebook declined to address the findings of the study but issued a statement saying that Facebook isn’t the only diversion around; TV and video games can be just as distracting as online social networks. The company also referenced a 2009 study conducted by researchers at the University of Melbourne in Australia which found that personal internet use at work may help focus concentration and increase productivity on the job.

Facebook also added that “it’s in the hands of students, in consultation with their parents, to define priorities and decide how to spend their time.”


Melissa Rhone+

Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.

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