high school graduation rates continue to improve and last year, the graduation rates in California reached historic highs. The result of this increase is that larger numbers of high school graduates are pursuing their post-secondary educations. But, the bad news is: a disturbingly low number of low-income students of color are getting their college degrees.
The evidence is incontrovertible, a college degree has life-long socio-economic benefits. But the gap in educational achievement between students from low-income families and their high-income peers continues to grow. While half of all people from high-income families have a bachelor’s degree by age 25, just 1 in 10 people from low-income families do. There are a number of reasons why this is so, but what I hear over and over again from students I have come to know is that so many of these kids are not succeeding through college because they aren’t getting the support they need before and during college. The issues these kids face are many, including academic preparedness, financial aid and finding the right match. Further, for the kids who venture away from home, they are often leaving home for the first time. Once they arrive on a college campus, they feel lost and unprepared for many of the challenges they will face.
We have spent a lot of time over the past several years building our College Success Program. HOLA now has over 200 alumni in over 80 colleges and universities around the United States. These kids are not only graduating from high school and going to college, but they are matriculating through college with great success. Nearly 90% of the students we have tracked over the past six years are on track to or have graduated from college. We can’t take all of the credit for these results, this is an amazing group of kids. But I do believe that our efforts to build a village that provides a safe, accessible and comprehensive network of support for our students has contributed significantly to their successes. Beginning in their junior year of high school, we work one-on-one with our students to help them find the right match, financially, socially and academically. If a student is well matched, they have a much better chance of succeeding through college.
In addition to helping our students prepare for college, we continue to provide support once they have enrolled in college. Connecting to resources on campus is often the key to helping a student ease their transition. Our College Success team helps our students find those resources and encourages them to connect. Regular communication from an HOLA staff member, whether digitally or in person, provides a level of comfort and an outlet for struggling students. Annual alumni retreats/reunions provide the students with up to date information on a wide variety of topics and an opportunity to re-connect. We are constantly re-evaluating what we are doing and how best to ensure that our students are successfully matriculating through college.
As President Obama said in a report released by the White House last year:
Increasing college opportunity is not just an economic imperative, but a reflection of our values. We need to reach, inspire, and empower every student, regardless of background, to make sure that our country is a place where if you work hard, you have a chance to get ahead.