The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation awarded New York City $3 million today to more than double the percentage of city college students who earn associate’s degrees.

Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott said the city’s goal is to have 25 percent of City University of New York students earn an associate’s degree after three years of college. The city is giving itself until 2010 to reach that objective, and it’s got a long way to go. Currently, only 10 percent of the students who enter CUNY complete enough coursework for an associate’s degree in three years. Well-prepared students can typically earn this degree in two years.

Walcott said the city would also use the grant money to align public high schools’ curriculum with what’s being taught at CUNY to prevent students from entering college unable to do the work.

“One of the things we’ve been trying to do for a number of years in New York City and what this grant does for us, is make sure our K-12 and our CUNY system are constantly talking together and planning together,” he said in a conference call with reporters today.

Improving college and career counseling is also on the city’s list of ways to spend the money, but Walcott said it would not go toward personnel. In recent years, as city schools have endured a 12 percent budget cut, principals have often sacrificed guidance counselors in order to save teaching positions.

Seven cities applied for a piece of the foundation’s $12 million offer, called the Communities Learning in Partnership grant, which is aimed at improving college graduation rates. Three cities other than New York won: Mesa, Arizona, Riverside, California, and San Francisco, California. Each will get $3 million over the next three years.

A diagram from the city’s grant application shows the odds of a high schools freshman graduating from college:

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