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Gates Foundation gives $20 million for online courses

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation said Monday it will offer $20 million in grants for technology projects that help students finish college and earn a degree.

The nonprofit announced the launch of a competition called the Next Generation Learning Challenges that will award grants between $250,000 and $750,000 for technology solutions that help students finish college. Proposals are due by Nov. 19, with winners expected to be announced March 31, 2011.

“American education has been the best in the world, but we’re falling below our own high standards of excellence for high school and college attainment,” said Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates in a statement.

The effort is led by the nonprofit EDUCAUSE, which is seeking proposals that combine face-to-face instruction with online learning activities such as digital games, interactive video and social media. They are particularly interested in online course models for high-enrollment classes like introductory math, science and English aimed at community colleges, as well as analytics that allow teachers to monitor student progress.

“[The contest] will move proven and emerging technology-enabled solutions to a greater scale serving more students and more communities. When you add this multiplier effect to the kind of high quality learning we can provide it really will change people’s lives,“ said Diana Oblinger, EDUCAUSE’s president and CEO.

Monday's announcement is just the first round of funding, with more to come every six to 12 months.