Bill Moses ’83: Education changemaker

Bill Moses '83.

Courtesy of The Kresge Foundation.

Alumni in Action

Bill Moses ’83 majored in literature and international relations, but it was the classes he took in CMC’s philosophy department that set his life’s course. Now the managing director of the Kresge Foundation’s Education Program, where he promotes college access and success for low-income, first-generation, and underrepresented students, Moses traces his commitment to the ideals of access and opportunity to a Claremont McKenna classroom.

It was in a seminal course on the Holocaust, Moses remembers, that Professor John Roth challenged his class to think about how ordinary people, like workers, bureaucrats, and corporate leaders enabled the kind of hate and anti-Semitism that led eventually to genocide in Central Europe in the 1940s.

Bill Moses '83 in his youth.

Bill Moses ’83 during his yearlong Watson Fellowship in South Africa after graduating from CMC.

“Roth encouraged us to think about what we, as individuals, could do in our own lives, in our own jobs, to make the world a better place,” recounts Moses, who saw the challenge of his generation in South Africa, where apartheid was raging. “What should we do from afar to help people in another country to get their freedom?” he wondered.

He wrote his thesis on apartheid and though intending to go to law school and return to his home state of Alaska, Moses secured a prestigious Thomas J. Watson Fellowship and went to South Africa instead. There, he explored the literary reflections of apartheid's economic, political, social, and cultural impacts in South Africa, other African countries, and the United Kingdom.

Once back in the States, Moses earned a master’s degree in international relations at Yale, and joined the anti-apartheid movement from the U.S., utilizing economic sanctions and divestment as a lever to affect change. Nelson Mandela’s election as the first democratic leader of South Africa in 1994 and the dissolution of the apartheid system was a high point of his early career, said Moses.

He went on to lead The Watson Foundation in 1995—his realization of the power of philanthropy to change lives was emerging. For his next area of focus, Moses leaned on advice that an activist in South Africa had given him years earlier—to “invest in fighting racism in your own country,” which Moses called “a humbling realization.”

He chose to home in on education.

The Kresge Foundation, based in Detroit, was founded in 1924 by dime-store magnate S.S. Kresge, with the straightforward goal of making the world a better place. That appealed to Moses. He joined the foundation in 1997 as a program officer and has steadily built its education program.

He is blunt about the need for education beyond high school. “It’s an absolute necessity.”

“It is very difficult, if not impossible, to enter the middle class with only a high school diploma. You are almost invariably destined to work for minimum wage. And it’s very, very difficult to break into the middle class, to access good health care, education, housing, and transportation, with that kind of compensation.”

Moses notes further that the gap in post-secondary education falls disproportionately on communities of color.

“We’ve gone from about a third to more than half of all Americans getting a post-secondary credential—it’s still not what the modern economy requires—but it’s a real unheralded success,” he argues.

Success stories abound in the proliferation of free community college programs, which reduce financial barriers to postsecondary education. Kresge supports the effort and Moses was appointed by President Obama in 2015 to the nonpartisan College Promise National Board, which encourages public support for free community college.

Bill Moses '83 with President Joe Biden and Jill Biden.

Moses at the White House with President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden. Moses was appointed by President Obama to the College Promise National Board in 2015 and in 2022 Biden appointed Moses to the President’s Board of Advisors on Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

Kresge also champions Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), which Moses points out play a critical, albeit often unrecognized, role in educating Black professionals and leaders. The foundations’ funding has helped several HBCUs build their management, fundraising, data analytics, and accreditation capacity, among other goals. In a nod to that work, President Biden appointed Moses last March to the President’s Board of Advisors on HBCUs.

“I was thrilled to be invited to be part of this group of wonderful leaders,” he said.

“We have already begun to move the needle on attainment. What we need to do next is remove racial equity gaps by ensuring that all people can belong, flourish, and succeed in college.”

Sarah Kidwell


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