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Enrichment Programs Fill Opportunity Gap for Students

Saymirah Cornelius-McClam, an 8th grader at Rainier Scholars, hopes to one day become a forensic scientist. She told NewsHour, “Without this help that I’m getting now, I probably would be totally confused in a couple of years.” Photo by Mike Fritz/PBS NewsHour

While the gap in graduation rates between low and high income students has only increased over the years, enrichment programs such as OneGoal in Chicago, Ill., and Rainier Scholars in Seattle try to bridge that gap by providing an intricate support system throughout high school — and into college.

According to a 2011 study by the National Bureau of Economic Research, 54 percent of higher income students graduated from college with bachelor’s degrees as compared to only 9 percent of lower income students.

PBS affiliate WTTW in Chicago reported on one such “college persistence program” hoping to turn around those feelings of insecurity among college freshmen from under-served backgrounds — and with it, their graduation rates.

Started in Chicago in 2007, OneGoal identifies exceptional teachers and trains them to become OneGoal Program Directors. Their job is to teach and counsel a group of approximately 25 high school juniors, or OneGoal fellows, in courses built into the regular school day. In addition to academic and ACT preparation, the students are guided through the college application and financial aid process.

They remain in the program throughout their first years at college, and communicate biweekly with their program directors and peer fellows through an online support system.

But OneGoal is not alone in their efforts to close the country’s growing achievement gap.

Last year, the NewsHour’s American Graduate team reported on Rainier Scholars, a non-profit organization in Seattle that provides low-income students with a similar support program.

At Rainier Scholars, children are recruited beginning in the fifth grade and, from there, they are paired with instructors and mentors who will offer them year-round academic and emotional support until they graduate from college.

During middle and high school, students are prepared not only for the academic rigors of college, (they commit to two years of full-time summer school and weekend classes) but the social and emotional ones as well.

For example, as instructors read passages from Homer’s “The Odyssey,” they also teach lessons about leadership and responsibility.

“When I look at one of my Latinas, for example, I treat her as though she is going to be my… grandchild’s pediatrician, or when I look at one of our Black-American boys, I try and educate him as though he were going to be my city councilperson,” said Diego Little, one of the instructors at Rainier Scholars. “I try to treat them as though they are going to be consequential people, and we work back from there. And I find that if you treat them like they actually have a future, they tend to have one.”

So far, it seems to be working. The first three cohorts that have finished high school have done so with a 100 percent graduation and college admissions rate. In total, Rainier has 152 scholars in more than 60 college and universities in the country.

Watch the full report below:
Rainer and OneGoal are not alone in trying to tackle the college graduation gap by working with students years before they even apply to college. But unlike federally funded programs like Upward Bound, these are nonprofit organizations. Similar programs, in various iterations, have sprouted locally across the country from the Texas-based College Forward program to Chicago’s Schuler Scholar Program.

The Achievement Gap: By the Numbers

  • Rainier has 152 scholars attending 63 colleges and universities across 23 states, with the first cohort, or class of scholars, expected to graduate in 2013.

  • Of the students in the first cohort, which graduated high school in 2009, 100 percent were admitted to four-year college and universities.

  • For the high school class of 2009, 96 percent of OneGoal’s fellows were accepted to four-year institutions.

  • In 2010, 67 percent of the entering freshmen class at the 193 most selective colleges came from families in the highest-earning quarter of the income scale. Only 15 percent came from the bottom half.

  • Fifty-five percent of bachelor’s degrees were awarded to students from families making more than $98,875 a year. Only 9.4 percent of bachelor’s degree recipients came from families who made less than $33,000.

American Graduate is a public media initiative funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to help local communities across America find solutions to the dropout crisis.

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