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.
Over the past few months, there have been a series of articles, books, and materials by thought-leaders both in and outside of the youth development sector that help underscore the centrality of relationships in a young person’s life.
As millions of young people begin a new school year, many parents and adults are no doubt worried about how well they’ll fare. From concerns about screen time to college and career readiness, there are plenty of headlines that fret over the well-being of young people.
For centuries, religion and science have regularly found themselves at odds in defining the essential truths of our world—a debate that, of course, continues today. So, we should take note when distinguished leaders in those two, often-conflicting domains find themselves arriving at the same conclusion about a fundamental question: how do we out more struggling young people on a path toward success?
John Gomperts, president & CEO of America’s Promise Alliance, the nation’s largest network dedicated to improving the lives of children and youth, has issued the following statement in response to the forced separation of children and parents at the U.S. border
In response to the passing of Former First Lady Barbara Bush, John Gomperts, president and CEO of America’s Promise Alliance released the following statement:
“Yesterday, America lost a true champion for young people.
Adults often complain that kids today don't respect their elders. But what happens when it's the other way around? What if young people are the ones who are not getting the respect and dignity they need to be successful in school and life?
America’s Promise and Milton Hershey School call on schools and other organizations to better collaborate by establishing partnerships that share knowledge, teach essential workplace skills, and create lifelong role models for the young people who make up our next workforce. We all have an obligation to prepare young adults for the competitive global job market they will enter post-graduation.
For those of us who have worked on the GradNation campaign, the Ballou coverage has challenged us to reflect and question our own role in this story. What are the unintended consequences of setting an ambitious goal? How can we do better? What does this story, and the story of other schools now being investigated, mean for the broader story of our national progress?
The tragic events that took place in Charlottesville over the weekend remind us of the need to stay focused on creating a better, safer world for all young people, and strengthen our resolve to work together toward that goal.
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.