The College Promise: Some Districts Are Creating Innovative Programs to Inspire All Students to Pursue Higher Education

By Sturgeon, Julie | District Administration, March 2009 | Go to article overview
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The College Promise: Some Districts Are Creating Innovative Programs to Inspire All Students to Pursue Higher Education


Sturgeon, Julie, District Administration


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COLLEGE FEES AND TUITION ARE rising--430 percent since 1982. Student borrowing for college has more than doubled since 1998, and about 50 percent of lower-income students head to college following high school, compared to 80 percent of high-income students, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Various public school districts are devising creative programs to encourage every student, not just those who can afford it or have high grades, to think of attending college.

Nate Easley, deputy director of the Denver Scholarship Foundation, last summer attended the inaugural PromiseNet conference in Kalamazoo, Mich., a gathering of 250 people ranging from superintendents to mayors to philanthropists, all looking for ways to combine support networks and scholarship monies effectively.

Easley sees real potential from the philanthropic side. "Government programs are very successful but limited," says Easley, who has also worked for the federal Upward Bound grant program much of his career. "They only serve about 10 percent of the eligible population, and it comes with a lot of strings attached that in some ways limits innovation. A privately funded, 501(c)(3) can move fast and change if something doesn't work."

In addition, an array of school district and college partnerships, such as those found at Buffalo (N.Y.) Public Schools and Newark (N.J.) Public Schools, are encouraging more students to take the road to higher education.

Meanwhile, the most important key for districts is to adopt an attitude of seeing every student as college material, according to Rick Dalton, president and CEO of College for Every Student, a nonprofit advocacy organization in Cornwall, Vt. Here are five innovative programs that help students who wouldn't normally even consider college to apply and attend.

DEMANDING EXCELLENCE

"The target at the Brownsville (Texas) Independent School District is to make every student college ready by removing any obstacles that might stand in the way. That's why the district implemented dual enrollment classes in the fall of 2008, in which students earn up to 45 college credit hours for the same classes that earn them their high school diplomas. Brownsville Early College High School will offer classes to its students at the University of Brownsville campus for their junior and senior years, so they can earn credits for both on the district's dime.

"The key is having a good curriculum that is both vertically and horizontally aligned," assures Salvador Cavazos, assistant superintendent of curriculum instruction. Brownsville pays the SAT testing fees for any students in the district who can't afford them, regardless of whether they are in the Early College program.

As a result of this "everyone can learn" philosophy, Brownsville's Hispanic students showed greater improvement than their peers in similar Texas districts in reading and math at all grade levels over a three-year period, according to the measurements that won the district the 2008 Broad Prize for Urban Education. From 2004 to 2007, the district surpassed the state average in raising the percentage of Hispanic and low-income students who achieved math proficiency at all grade levels and achieved reading proficiency in elementary and high school.

SMALLER SCHOOLS

Crater High School in the Central Point (Ore.) School District 6, had an alarmingly low number of students pursuing college a few years ago.

Even with funds available from the district's Crater Foundation--and a guarantee that all who asked would receive--less than 50 percent of seniors requested scholarship assistance in the spring of 2007. "We were certainly not a failing high school in the eyes of our community or the Oregon Department of Education, but the number of kids pursuing college was alarming," says Samantha Steele, director of education.

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