America’s Promise Alliance held its second Building a Grad Nation Summit earlier this week. Hundreds of supporters in the education sector converged on Washington, D.C. to share best practices in the mission to support our nation’s youth in reaching their graduation goals.
Grad Nation is a large and growing movement of dedicated individuals, organizations and communities working to end America’s dropout crisis. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan was one of the featured speakers at the event, as well as the organization’s founding chairman, General Colin Powell. We were reminded, again, of the urgency and importance of preparing young people for college and the 21st century workforce, in particular as it relates to our country’s economy.
Strategic solutions to the dropout crisis, such as the Communities In Schools model of integrated student solutions, are being implemented across the country to address the issue. While we focus on helping young people graduate from high school, we must also consider the role of college in their futures. I attended the session “Connecting to Post-Secondary Education: Knowledge, Access & Affordability.” Panelists touched on building college knowledge among under-represented populations and first-generation students, and financing a college education.
Many resources exist to help students plan, apply and pay for college. And the college conversation can start as early as middle school. One such program, ACCESS, provides information on how students can finance their college education. Another initiative, College Application Week, started by the College Foundation of North Carolina, was introduced in one high school in 2006 and has mushroomed to 450 schools across the state today. The initiative introduces high school students to programs on how to save for college, apply for scholarships and financial aid, and plan for a career.
At the Cristo Rey Network, college preparatory high schools around the country for youth with limited educational options, it starts with a simple introduction. For example, every student entering ninth grade this past school year was welcomed in their school as a member of the graduating class of 2019 – which includes graduating from college. According to president and CEO Robert Birdsell, who spoke on the panel, this creates a particular culture and mind set. “It’s not are you going to college, but where.”
Cristo Rey also has a rigorous college work-study program that helps students earn money toward their college tuition, and helps them assimilate to the corporate work culture, as well as gain real-world work experience.
Increasingly, college enrollment and graduation for the underserved are on the public radar and being addressed by Communities In Schools. High school graduation is not the “golden ticket,” but a step along the way to a better future. We work with partners like Upward Bound, which offers workshops to explain the college application process to first-generation students and their parents. Even our Alumni Network is set up as a resource for Communities In Schools graduates to help them achieve college degrees. The work we do to surround students with a community of support plants the seed to help them grow and succeed – not just in high school, but beyond.