News that First Lady Michelle Obama is planning to focus on increasing college degree attainment (“Michelle Obama Edges Into a Policy Role on Higher Education,” New York Times, November 11, 2013) for lower-income students is a welcome development for a number of reasons.
Students from underserved communities – including low-income and minority students – consistently perform less well than their peers when it comes to academic achievement, college attainment, and persistence. Mrs. Obama, who grew up in a blue-collar family on Chicago’s South Side and graduated from two Ivy League schools, is a perfect person to carry this torch. We should not look to her as the exception, but as the example.
“I’m here today because I want you to know that my story can be your story,” Mrs. Obama told students at a Washington D.C. school Tuesday.
I agree. As president of EDWorks, a subsidiary of KnowledgeWorks, which focuses on helping first-generation college-goers from underserved communities obtain college credits while in high school, I share a similar story. As the first person in my working-class family to attend college, I attribute my success to the high expectations and support from a key group of teachers, principals and community stalwarts who believed that I could attend and graduate from Harvard University (1987).
Attending college is little more than a pipe dream for far too many underserved students, but it does not have to be that way.
Our organization, EDWorks, has supported more than 30 early college high schools, including Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH) in Brooklyn, at which President Obama spoke last month. In our schools with multiple graduating classes, 79 percent of students earn at least 30 hours of college credit, 33 percent earn 60 hours of college credit, and 40 percent earn 30 to 55 hours of college credit while still in high school. What’s more, 95 percent of students continue in higher education, with an 87.3 percent persistence rate at four-year institutions.
Not only are there social implications to having fewer students going to college, but there are long-term negative economic consequences. A 2013 report by the Lumina Foundation notes that by 2025 the United States workforce needs about 23 million more people with college degrees than the nation’s colleges and universities will have produced by then. Currently, only about 39 percent of adults across the nation have college degrees; worse yet, only about 13-15 percent of low income and minority adults have college degrees.
This means that we’ll need about 300,000 more people to graduate college every year if we want to reach those goals.
In 1962, President Kennedy declared that the United States would place a man on the moon by the end of the decade. The stakes were high and global technological superiority hung in the balance. As we now know, that goal was accomplished – and more.
Ensuring more students – especially the historically underserved – should be no less important to our country’s future than Kennedy’s moonshot. And that’s why we applaud the First Lady and stand with her as she seeks to bring more light and heat on a problem that can’t be ignored another moment.
I believe that all young people can achieve their dreams. It’s just that they may require very different pathways to get there. That was part of the motivation behind the creation of EDWorks Fast Track Early College High School and Fast Track Academies for grades K-8. We are here and doing this work because we want every child to succeed, to reach his / her fullest potential, and to be prepared for any life choice they wish to make.
But I also think we – the team at EDWorks and at all groups working together on Early College High Schools – need to more boldly proclaim that the work we are doing addresses one of the most pressing issues facing our nation as a whole – the crisis in college completion rate at a time when our economy cries out for a more highly educated and skilled workforce.
We all know that college completion rates in this country are absolutely abysmal, especially for our target population. President Obama’s administration announced a goal for 50% of the United States population to have earned a higher education degree by the year 2020. And the Lumina Foundation is aiming for 60% by 2025. Currently, only about 39% of adults across the nation have college degrees; worse yet, only about 13-15% of low income and minority adults have college degrees.
This means that we’ll need about 300,000 more people to graduate college every year if we want to reach those goals. And the current, traditional college-going population is not enough. Projections show the U.S. will be a “majority-minority” nation by 2043. Given this reality, there is no way we can reach these higher education degree attainment goals without dramatically increasing in the number of first-generation, poor and minority students who earn degrees.
One of the primary reasons for such low college completion rates is the large numbers of students entering college underprepared. Higher education spends a great deal of time and resources recruiting students, only to see large numbers of them leave after the first year. In fact, more than 30% of all students drop out of college after the first year – and reports show that number can be as high as 50-75% for low-income and minority students. And the costs go beyond the higher education institutions themselves. Each year, states and the federal government spend a combined $1.8 billion – that’s billion, with a B – on students who don’t return to college for a second year.
Early College is a transformative enrollment and retention strategy. Our national data indicate that Early College High School students who earn 25-30 college credits while in high school are twice as likely to complete a 4 year degree as compared to their peers!
There are fewer than 300 early college high schools in the United States. Yet, there are more than 7,000 institutions of higher education in the U.S., of which approximately 3,100 are 2- and 4-year degree granting institutions. I am convinced that we can make a great case to them as to why they should embrace early college partnerships.
Two-year community colleges, some of whom are in highly competitive environments for enrolling students, should see early college as an attractive pipeline strategy; and others simply seek an innovation or differentiator that adds to their reputation or mission fulfillment.
Four-year private and selective public colleges and universities often struggle to attract and retain college-ready first generation, low-income and minority students, and should see early college as a potentially transformative enrollment strategy.
And of course nearly every public school district is expected to offer unique and high-quality choices for parents and students. Early college can fill that need. So I think there is a world of opportunity out there for us to dramatically grow this movement.
We’re aiming to lead the way to a new normal. We foresee a new normal where every high school student – and especially first generation, low-income and minority students – will experience college success and attain a meaningful number of college credits during their high school careers. More specifically, we want to be able to tell every youngster in grade school that if he or she works hard, stays with it, and takes full advantage of every available opportunity, he or she can complete 14 years of schooling in 12 years – and come away with an associate degree, up to 2 years of college credit, or perhaps a marketable certificate or accreditation that will lead to gainful employment. This needs to become our new normal.
When you consider that fewer than 15% of all low-income and minority students entering 9th grade actually earn a four-year degree, yet more than 87% of our early college high school graduates persist to a 4-year degree – this is perhaps the most promising strategy for moving those students, from those communities to college completion. And so, for anyone who wonders whether or not this work is “innovative” or worthy of further investment, the answer is a resounding, absolutely!
Today President Barack Obama will be meeting with students and visiting classrooms at Pathways in Technology Early College High School, P-TECH, in Brooklyn, New York. The President mentioned P-TECH in his 2013 State of the Union Address.
Beginning at 3 pm, the President’s remarks can be followed live at http://www.whitehouse.gov/live. You can also follow the reaction on Twitter with the hashtag #obama_ptech.
P-TECH, which opened in 2011, is a great example of how beneficial a strong partnership between a school and local business can be to school staff and students, as well as employees at the company. IBM partners with P-TECH and provides every student with a mentor.
“We are grateful that President Obama is recognizing the hard work by the leadership, teachers and staff at P-TECH,” EDWorks President Harold Brown said. “It is a national imperative that we equip our young people with the tools and skills they need, especially those who may be the first in their families to go to college or who may be economically disadvantaged.”
We received a great deal of feedback to the blog post “The Difference between Collaboration and Collective Impact”. The most common question is around whether collective impact is somehow superior or even counter to collaboration. To this I would respond with a resounding, “No!” There is a time and place for both. In fact, we could even consider that there needs to be something along the lines of an “Impact Continuum” that runs from Isolated Impact – our traditional method of operating in silos – to collaboration and on to collective impact (see figure: The Impact Continuum)
- There is a time and place for each point on the continuum. It could be that an organization needs to act individually on a specific pressing issue for the betterment of the community as a whole or a specific population. Similarly, there is a time for communities to use collaboration to rally the around a common cause and/or to promote the exchange of information broadly to inform practice on the ground. And then there is a time for communities to take a more purposeful and deliberate approach to achieve sustained improvements through collective impact. In the end, one is not better than the other, and all three are happening at the same time in any given community.
- We need to set a high bar and push each other to find real examples of collective impact. Over 50 communities contributed feedback to the StriveTogether Theory of Action for Building Cradle to Career Civic Infrastructure. This is our attempt to raise the bar. We will be working arm-in-arm with sites to assess their progress over the coming months. And we should only find very few examples that meet the true definition of collective impact (a “10” on the Impact Continuum) to a) ensure the concept continues to hold meaning and b) encourage the communities to reach high as they work to achieve not only significant impact on the population they serve, but sustained improvements in the systems that serve them.
- We need to be very honest about where efforts we hail as examples fall on this continuum. As one national funder told me recently, “I see so many examples of proclaimed collective impact each and every day, I have no clue what it means.” Every time a case study or story is released in the field that claims to be collective impact, but fails to meet this high bar, we decrease the potential of sustaining this movement.
In the practice of collective impact, we have a foothold on changing how we do business in the social sector for the benefit of every child. We can move from focusing far too often on the interests of adults working within systems and institutions to the actual needs of those we serve. To take advantage of this moment, we need a rigorous definition of what this promising approach entails. Hopefully the Impact Continuum gets us a step closer to where we need to be to realize this powerful change.
We welcome any and all feedback on the Continuum and will look to refine it in the coming months and years as we learn more from partners working on the ground about how to best have impact on the lives of children every step of the way, from cradle to career.
Life is always a series of firsts. First steps. First day of school. First kiss. First time driving. First time living away from home. And on and on. Those are the firsts that stick with us. That are photographed, inscribed into diaries, recalled with friends. But, of course, there are all sorts of other firsts that occur, sometimes so quickly we forget to appreciate them.
Part of my job as an EDWorks coach is helping schools meet big goals. This varies in what it means. Sometimes I am introducing an idea, walking school staff through the process, winning over believers, fighting towards success. Hard won successes like that are gratifying. I get to watch people celebrate the first time they reach a certain graduation rate, the first time they successfully implement an integrated STEM curriculum, the first time they host a design competition.
I’m lucky to also get to work with so many people of vision, who know exactly what they want their school to be but just need a little help getting there. That work is different, but the firsts I get to experience are just as sweet.
At New Hope Christian Academy, Principal Mike Fluhart approached EDWorks with a vision to become a STEAM school (STEM with an arts integration). He envisioned unique partnresips with local farmers to combine real-world uses for STEM into, and out of, the classroom. He tells people, “Our goal is to provide your child the education you desire, and the education they deserve. I strongly believe if a school is not striving for excellence they are failing the child and the Lord. We see implementing STEM around the 21st Century classroom concepts as providing that excellence.”
Ohio’s first Christian STEAM high school opened its doors a few weeks ago. Success!
Now Fluhart has another first in mind, one that I’m excited to also be helping with. New Hope Christian Academy will be partnering with Ohio Christian University to create a Fast Track Early College High School. High school students will be able to start earning college credits their freshman year, with a total of up to 63 credits available for them to earn, all while still in high school. With this partnership, students will have the opportunity to graduate high school with a diploma and up to two years of college credit under their belt.
This will be Ohio’s first Christian STEAM Early College High School, which is exciting. But an even more exciting first will be watching high school students earn their first college credit, leading them down a path of education success and preparing them for a brighter future!