Guest Post: Post-secondary opportunities for students who leave high school early

October 1, 2010 •

Editor’s note: Each Friday we feature guest bloggers that are involved in rethinking what is possible with schooling and the education system.

In this guest post Nick Mathern describes an attempt to reduce dropout rates by allowing prospective dropouts to move into post-secondary education sooner. Nick is the Associate Vice President of Policy & Partnership for the Gateway to College Program, which helps potential high school dropouts to earn a high school diploma while also earning college credits. Gateway to College currently has. programs underway at 26 colleges in 16 states.

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As the broadest access point to post-secondary education in the US, community and technical colleges are powerful places. However, the sad truth is that a majority of incoming high school grads arrive at community and technical colleges unprepared for transfer-level coursework. For these underprepared students, the open enrollment policies of two-year colleges often operate like a revolving door. Additionally, the nearly thirty percent of students who don’t complete high school don’t even make it as far as the door.

As dual enrollment programs have become ubiquitous over the past decade, colleges have played an increasingly direct role in solving the ‘college readiness’ problem.

Gateway to College emerged out of the recognition that with additional support services, struggling and previously dropped-out students can also find success in a college environment. The empowering process begins as students shed their previous identity as an unsuccessful high school student and re-invent themselves as a college student. The program, currently in place at 26 colleges across the country, couples dual-credit with low student/advisor ratios and learning communities designed to foster skills needed for success in college.

Gateway represents a unique partnership between colleges and school districts that goes beyond typical dual-enrollment policies. Because programs re-enroll or retain students who would otherwise be dropped-out, the program represents an increase in state revenue for districts. And since students are served entirely on the college campus, a majority of those state dollars follow the student directly to the college; covering not only tuition and books, but also the intensive student support that students cite as the critical ingredient for their newfound success.

While the program creates a benefit for school districts, it is also attractive to colleges because the state K-12 funding allows colleges to provide more comprehensive services than they can for students who are only paying tuition.

College faculty have responded enthusiastically to Gateway. Additional time for planning with colleagues and increased contact with students has led faculty to see the potential benefit of these services for a broader audience. Not having completed high school, Gateway students begin in developmental education (pre-college) courses. Faculty members have looked for ways to transfer the strategies used to serve Gateway students to other developmental education courses.

In 2010, as a result of the influence Gateway programs have within their colleges, nine colleges are collaborating with the Gateway to College National Network to pilot Project Degree. They are using a new model of wrap-around services and integrated-curriculum learning communities designed to increase success among entering college students who test into two or more developmental courses. Project Degree will measure the impact of integrating multiple effective strategies on student success. It also aims to create change agents within colleges who will spread the practices to a wider set of faculty.

Image: Nick Mathern