Every year, an estimated 1.3 million high school students across the country drop out or fail to graduate with their peers. It’s a challenge that presents long-term and far-reaching socio-economic implications.
Districts in the metropolitan area also struggle with the challenge of graduating every student prepared for college and careers. In Kansas City, Kan., Public Schools, the graduation rate hovers around 67 percent. Current and former KCKPS students will be participating in an effort to boost graduation rates and college enrollments, by being the first in the state of Kansas to participate in a nationwide initiative which has garnered support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and other prominent funders.
Gateway to College at Donnelly, an innovative new partnership with Donnelly College, an urban Kansas City, Kan., liberal arts institution, and Gateway to College National Network, a national nonprofit organization based in Portland, Ore., is aimed at increasing graduation rates and opening doors to post-secondary study among Kansas City, Kan., students who have dropped out of high school, and those who are on the verge of dropping out.
Scheduled to launch in August 2013, Gateway to College at Donnelly will enroll 50 young people who have dropped out of school or are significantly behind in credits for their age. Approximately 150 students are expected to apply for 50 available seats in the inaugural cohort. Through the program, students will complete their high school diploma requirements at Donnelly, while simultaneously earning college credits toward an associate’s degree or certificate. GtCNN awarded a $342,500 grant to Donnelly for planning and implementation of the program. During a three-year period, Gateway to College at Donnelly is expected to enroll 300 youth.
During the first term of study, students will build academic and personal skills in a small community of peers on the Donnelly campus. Instructors and student support specialists who understand the obstacles and challenges faced by youth who drop out of school will help students improve proficiency in reading, writing and math. Students will also prepare for the transition to college through enrollment in introductory courses with the general student population. It is projected that students will continue in the program for three to four semesters.
“It’s about giving students a second chance,” said Amy Neufeld, associate vice president of student success at Donnelly. “We have always been deeply committed to helping young people pursue higher education. Now, through this partnership with Gateway to College National Network, Donnelly’s ability to empower students and enhance access to college is further augmented. Our team is perfectly positioned to reengage students who have struggled to meet graduation requirements.
“This initiative is changing young lives across the country and now it’s going to be impacting youth, ages 17 to 21, in Kansas City, Kan.,” Neufeld said. “Gateway to College at Donnelly doesn’t just give students another shot at graduating – it’s a dual credit program that also provides opportunities to concurrently earn substantial college credit.”
Although Gateway to College is a relatively new model – it started in 2000 – it’s already impacted thousands of students in communities across the nation and currently operates at 43 colleges in 23 states. Donnelly is the first private college to launch a Gateway to College program.
Results at established Gateway to College programs are encouraging. Network partners report significant improvements in attendance with an average attendance rate of 81 percent. Students report feeling safer and more connected than they did while enrolled in high school. During the 2011/2012 academic year, Gateway students enrolled in over 13,000 courses for which a letter grade is awarded, and passed 68 percent of these classes with a C or better.
The most innovative component of the program is the opportunity to earn college credit while fulfilling requirements for high school graduation. Participants graduate from Gateway to College with a high school diploma and an average of 33 college semester credit hours, putting them well on their way to earning an associate’s degree. On average, students with two-year degrees earn twice as much as high school dropouts.
“Helping students succeed now costs society far less than the longer-term consequences of not reengaging them,” said Laurel Dukehart, GtCNN president. “Dropouts face lives of poverty, limited opportunity and even shorter life spans. They’re 3.5 times more likely than high school graduates to be incarcerated.
“The work that we’re doing matters a great deal – to individual participants and to communities as a whole,” Dukehart said. “We are very pleased to partner with Donnelly College as we introduce this initiative to Kansas City and we’re extremely confident in the College’s capacity to further the mission of Gateway to College National Network.”
Recruitment of students into the Gateway to College at Donnelly program will commence this spring.
“There are countless reasons why students struggle to succeed in traditional learning environments,” said Mary Viveros, Kansas City, Kan., Public Schools district coach of implementation – secondary. “Gateway to College at Donnelly offers a valuable opportunity for youth in our community to receive the support they need to rise above diverse challenges. We will be reaching out to English language learners, teen parents, students with family responsibilities as well as those who deal with other significant life challenges that prevent success in a traditional high school.”
Donnelly College, 608 N. 18th, Kansas City, Kan., is an independent, coeducational, Catholic institution founded by the Benedictine Sisters of Mount St. Scholastica and sponsored by the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas. Donnelly was established in 1949 to make college accessible to urban immigrants and the working class. Today, the college continues that tradition by offering affordable access to higher education. Racially and ethnically diverse students learn in an exceptionally supportive environment and engage in a strong general education curriculum integrated with career-oriented majors. Bachelor’s and associate degrees as well as certificates are offered. Donnelly is the region’s only federally designated Minority Serving and Hispanic Serving Institution. Visit www.donnelly.edu.
- Story from Lynn Hire, Donnelly College