I was a bit startled when I read Bill Gates’s post on LinkedIn early this morning. I know that he has long been deeply concerned about access to and success in college, and I admire his thinking and work in this area. But he and his foundation have often tended toward technological solutions.
“A student from a wealthy family in the U.S.,” Gates writes, “is eight times more likely to earn a bachelor’s degree by age 24 than a student from a low-income family.”
The problem isn’t a shortage of desire or aspiration. “The problem is that too many drop out before completing their degrees, especially students from low-income families.”
Research has told us that most young people at risk of leaving high school or college are growing up in challenging circumstances. They confront a world of challenges from housing to transportation, health to cash, low expectations to lack of role models.
What they want and need, more than anything, is a web of support from caring adults and peers. They need people to lean on and answer to, people to encourage them, believe in them and expect them to succeed, hold them to high standards and guide them through tough situations.
Gates cites two historically black colleges, Johnson C. Smith and Delaware State University, as standouts “when it comes to recruiting at-risk students, keeping them in school, and giving them the support they need to graduate.”
And Gates calls out the secret to the progress at these two schools: They accept students based on potential not past performance. They identify those most at risk and provide support before problems arise. And they provide mentors, tutors and counselors who check in regularly, especially in the first year.
It’s simple but not easy, labor-intensive and costly. So Gates asks, “Why not let the students who can’t make it drop out?” Delaware State University staff told him that it “actually costs a university more – in lost tuition – to allow a student to drop out than it does to pay for the support needed to help retain that student.”
By the way, that’s true for high school students, too. The Arizona Mayors’ Education Roundtable just published a report showing that “each dropout in Arizona produces $421,280 in economic losses over his or her lifetime.”
These losses come from decreased earnings and increased public and private expenses for health, crime and welfare, and they account for only a single young person without a diploma.
The cumulative costs are much greater. Roughly 18,100 young people didn’t get their high school diplomas in Arizona in 2012, which amounted to a total of $7.6 billion in economic losses for the state—more than it spends on K-12 education each year.
We can help reduce those losses and start to produce huge gains – for individuals, families, states and the nation – by increasing the strength, number and nature of relationships in young people’s lives.
It doesn’t even have to be hard. Young people told us that the small stuff matters – listening without judgment; asking simple, sincere questions; providing a lunch or a ride; offering tutoring for an upcoming test or coaching for a tough conversation.
As one young woman said in a recent article about the relationships in her life, “That’s what young people like me need — more adults who won’t give up on us, so that we don’t give up on ourselves.”
I’ve admired Bill Gates's ideas and philanthropy for a long time, but today I am particularly happy that he has landed on perhaps the most powerful and scalable solution of all. By always putting relationships at the center, we can create the conditions in which many more young people graduate from high school and college, prepared to thrive in work, life and community.
The 5 Promises represent conditions children need to achieve adult success. The collective work of the Alliance involves keeping these promises to America’s youth. This article relates to the promises highlighted below:
John Gomperts has been president and CEO at America’s Promise Alliance since 2012. Prior to joining America’s Promise, he served as the Director of AmeriCorps. Over the course of his career, Gomperts has served in leadership roles in the U.S. Senate, the Corporation for National and Community Service, Encore.org, and the Public Education Network, among others. Gomperts graduated from the University of California, Berkeley and earned his J.D. from Georgetown University.
While the recent campaign and election moved fear to the forefront in a great many households, the uncomfortable truth is that for far too many young people in America fear for personal safety is an everyday occurrence.
I don’t have teenage kids any more, but I do have a special interest in the nearly 4 million kids who are just starting high school right now. Back in 2010, the GradNation campaign set a goal of 90 percent high school graduation by 2020, and we’ve made great progress since then, reaching an all-time high graduation rate of 82.3 percent.
Every day, my colleagues and I share and read studies, news reports and op-eds written by experts in the field, and I love reading them. And yet, I often find myself learning the most from pieces written by young people themselves—the real experts not just on education, but on all the issues that concern them and have an impact on their lives.
Adults are used to being experts. Too often, they’re certain they know what young people need. Though often well-meaning, these adults don’t stop to ask young people if a new building or block scheduling or new technology or exit exams will help motivate them to achieve.
High school graduation rates have been the source of a lot of news coverage – and conflicting emotions – in the past few weeks.
President Obama and more than a dozen governors hailed increasing graduation rates in their annual addresses. At the same time, leading journalists and policy wonks have raised questions about those very gains and about the value of a high school diploma.
It’s December, and I’m a sucker for end-of-year lists – the best books, movies, music, plays and moments. I love the sorting and reflecting, the summing up and looking forward.
In many ways, the high points of 2015 for me were captured in the three hours I spent with Self Enhancement, Inc. (SEI) in Portland, Oregon.
The GradNation campaign got two big shots of good news this week.
First, the U.S. Department of Education released preliminary data showing continued increases in high school graduation rates in most states.
Add relationship poverty to the list of challenges facing young people who leave high school before graduating.
It’s not a lack of love or family, but a lack of access and connection to people who can help lead them to a more promising future.
Over the past generation we’ve invested tremendous resources in school reform and school improvement – public and private money, great human talent in and out of classrooms, research, and heightened local and national attention.
This week, AmeriCorps members and Alums are celebrating Promise Fellows Week to draw attention to a program that deploys AmeriCorps members specifically to deliver the Five Promises that all young people need to thrive. As these extraordinary individuals reflect on their time in AmeriCorps, I wanted to take the time to reflect on my own.
This month thousands of AmeriCorps members will complete their service and “graduate” to becoming AmeriCorps Alums. As this transition takes place, and as people reflect on their time in AmeriCorps and look forward to what comes next, I wanted to share a few hopeful thoughts.