GtCNN Study: A Balanced Approach is Key in Implementing Technology in the Classroom

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Technology and next generation learning are revolutionizing the classroom. From online courses that let computer algorithms grade thousands of student assignments in no time, to smartphone applications that measure and promote student well-being on campus – technology is pervasive in academia and may be leveraged for several purposes.

Gateway to College National Network is interested in understanding students’ attitudes toward, and practices related to, technology-supported education and next generation learning in order to inform the design and implementation of these strategies in the classroom. The Understanding Academic Success Initiative, funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, provided Gateway with an opportunity to gather this information. Several research questions were used to guide this analysis; here we focus on one that informed the findings associated with online/hybrid course intake:

  • What implications does student access to technology have for technology-supported education and/or courses that rely on online curricula? (Student attitudes and experience with use of technology for courses, campus environment/offerings)

GtCNN partnered with Pacific Research & Evaluation to collect data from nearly 600 student responses to a survey administered to new Gateway to College students, and more than 200 responses to surveys administered to returning students. Here are a few of the notable findings from the study:


  • Approximately two-thirds (66%) of students surveyed indicated that they do not skip classes when course lectures are available online.


  • Survey respondents reported internet searches (85%) and listening to audio and watching videos (85%) as the primary means through which they like to learn.


  • Nearly three-fourths of respondents (73%) reported they have not taken any online courses since beginning Gateway to College (GtC), compared with 69% for hybrid courses.


  • Students were asked to indicate whether they completed or dropped the most recent online or hybrid course in which they were enrolled. Respondents reported a relatively high rate of completion, with 83% of online respondents and 89% of hybrid respondents completing their most recent course.

  • Similar to respondents enrolled in online courses, slightly over two-thirds of respondents in hybrid courses agreed that their college/GtC offered sufficient infrastructure (69%) and technical assistance (68%) for the courses.

While the findings lean toward acceptance and positive outcomes associated with technology-supported education, there are several obstacles to favorable implementation. The financial barriers with high costs of up-to-date computers and high-speed internet connections prohibit low-income students from taking full advantage of the online courses. Additional fees tacked on to online course enrollment act as a further deterrent. In a 2010 study, Jaggars found that low-income and academically underprepared students face negative effects when it comes to online learning with regard to grades, passage rates, persistence and withdrawal.[i] It is often attributed to a lack of self-direction, self-discipline and help-seeking skills necessary to succeed in an online learning environment.

Improved access to technology may benefit some students, but it will not solve issues of lacking the skills or knowledge to leverage it as an academic tool. Training and structured practice will need to follow so that students are able to effectively utilize the tools they are given.

As evident from the survey findings, Gateway to College provides useful assistance, often in the form of a face-to-face teacher for students enrolled in online or hybrid courses. This offers valuable support for academically-underprepared students and prepares them to succeed in other online or hybrid coursework.

In conclusion, it may be beneficial for the students and the programs to begin by adopting a balanced approach – one that involves moderate amounts of information technology integrated in their coursework along with adequate infrastructural support and training from faculty.

You may access the full report here: Gateway to College Student Technology Survey


Kriti Agrawal is a Data Analyst, and has been with GtCNN since June 2015. She is responsible for designing and supporting extensive data collection systems and providing related support to our partners through online training modules, group training webinars and individualized technical assistance. Read more.

[i] Jaggars, S. S. & Xu, D. (2010). Online learning in the Virginia Community College System. New York, NY: Columbia University, Teachers College, Community College Research Center.

Cali Hayes

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Gateway to College National Network is pleased to welcome Cali Hayes as our new Director of Foundation Relations. In her role, Cali will manage GtCNN's public and private grant proposals in support of specific network initiatives and the organization's operating budget. Cali will serve as the primary liaison for institutional funders, and will work closely with the GtCNN team to ensure that grant-related goals are met.


A dyed-in-the-wool storyteller, Cali strives to inspire funders to invest in programs that promote meaningful social and economic change. Prior to her recent move to Portland, a return to her Pacific Northwest roots, she served as the Director of Grants for People Assisting The Homeless (PATH), the largest homeless services agency in the State of California. There, she oversaw an annual portfolio of more than $22 million in public and private grants, and was instrumental in securing multiple large contracts that resulted in the organization more than quintupling in size during her six years there.


Prior to her work at PATH, Cali spent time honing her writing and editing skills at Boston publisher Baker's Plays and NuWire Investor, an online investment magazine based in Seattle. Cali holds a BA in Writing, Literature, and Publishing and Theatre Studies from Emerson College, and a MSc in Writing from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. We look forward to introducing Cali to many of our friends and funding partners in the coming months.

New Opportunities for Serving Out-Of-School Youth in a States-Rights Style ESEA Reauthorization

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

I was as surprised and fascinated as everyone else as the bipartisan viability of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) became increasingly likely, and ultimately passed, this fall. Early in the process, I was somewhat ambivalent to the actual outcome because out-of-school and off-track youth do not get the attention or investment that I feel is needed through ESSA. The fact that the High School Graduation Initiative (HSGI), or any specific reengagement initiative for that matter, was not in the bill was a big disappointment. It was no surprise that the bill found its bipartisan support by swinging the pendulum away from the one-size-fits-all approach of No Child Left Behind (NCLB). And, with that pendulum swing, the prospects for prescriptive federal initiatives were greatly diminished.

However, as the bill progressed, a colleague pointed out a key benefit in ESSA that may prove to be, in the big picture, even more impactful than HSGI for out-of-school youth. Under NCLB, one of the biggest hurdles for out-of-school youth was in the disincentives that districts had in serving them. An accountability system that focuses on test scores and four-year graduation rates does not prompt superintendents to re-enroll 19 year olds who had dropped out of school. So, even where we are seeing some early progress among states going out of their way to re-engage out-of-school youth, those same trailblazers were getting ready to have their hands slapped by ED for the performance of their hardest-to-serve students. 

Under ESSA, states must still conduct standardized testing in English and Math, and continue to measure four-year graduation rates. However, with the new law, states and local districts have more autonomy to develop local accountability systems that are customized to the needs of specific populations. This autonomy may provide a beneficial context for states to experiment with accountability systems that allow districts to provide the necessary second chances for students who have previously struggled. In Washington state, a system has been set up to allow districts to measure a wide range of academic indicators such as industry-recognized credentials and college credits for re-engaged students who are older and already beyond their four-year graduation window. Accountability systems like this are critical to incentivize districts to serve all students, and I believe that ESSA will encourage more states to be creative in the systems they develop.   

It is not yet clear how states will activate the new accountability that comes with ESSA. However, what is clear is that this is an opportunity for advocates for out-of-school youth and alternative accountability to collaborate with state agencies and legislatures for the creation of systems that measure the progress of students who were inadvertently neglected by NCLB. Despite the absence of explicit language in the new law calling on districts to re-enroll out-of-school youth, ESSA opens the door for states and districts to step forward with innovative approaches to accountability that measure outcomes that are relevant for previously dropped-out students and the educators who serve them.


Nick Mathern is Associate Vice President of Policy & Partnership Development. Since 2005, he has brokered agreements between colleges, school districts, and state education agencies in order to connect communities with training, professional development, and evaluation services, as well as replication and implementation of the Gateway to College program model. Read more.

Increased graduation rates are great, and they don’t solve our equity problem

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

By Nick Mathern

The US Department of Education announced last week that, once again, high school graduation rates are at a historic high. Across the US, 82% of young people who entered the 9th grade in fall of 2010 earned a diploma by the spring of 2014 (the rate was stalled for two years at 75% in 2008 and 2009[2]). This represents tremendous progress toward the goal set by America’s Promise Alliance of a 90% graduation rate by 2020. This is progress, not just because the overall number is going up, but because it is going up for low-income students and students of color as well. Graduation rates across demographics are not even yet, but we’re getting closer.

Still, those diplomas are not leading us to increased equity. The high school diploma is an ever-important step in the education process, but, it is just that, a step. It’s not news to anyone that we’re long past the point where a high school diploma is sufficient for preparing students for family wage jobs. That isn’t to say that all of our young people need four-year degrees—they don’t. But our 21st century job market is dependent on a balanced workforce that includes substantially more college degrees and technical certificates than American students currently earn.

The problem, then, is that while we’ve increased our capacity to get a larger and more equitable percentage of the population to clear the bar of high school graduation, it still amounts to a terminal degree for far too many students. The PELL Institute recently released a report demonstrating that over the past 45 years there has been a dramatic increase in college completion rates for students in the highest income quartile (and a doubling of attainment for students in the 3rd quartile as well).[3] However, for students in the lowest and in the second income quartiles, rates have only increased very modestly—not nearly enough to keep pace with the education demands of today’s workforce. (If you’re disinclined to read the entire 53 page report, has the salient graphics here[4].) NPR’s Morning Edition noted that first generation students are four times more likely than other students to drop out of college in their first year

In order to address this problem, we need to extend the pressure for accountability and equity that has yielded sustained progress in our nation’s high school graduation rates to our entire education system. We must ensure that the 81% of young people who earn an on-time high school diploma are both prepared and properly supported to achieve a post-secondary credential that allows them to access the American dream. Our current system doesn’t do that. Rather, it brings students to the end of the K-12 line, drops them off—very unevenly prepared—and cynically wishes them luck in achieving the daunting next phase of their journey. We can no longer afford the inequitable outcomes that result. Post-secondary education is no longer exclusively about achieving affluence and privilege. It is critical to meeting our workforce needs, and it cannot be exclusively attainable by those who come from affluence and privilege.

To be clear, this is not a problem that is being neglected. Across the country, there are many committed educators and policy makers who are working tirelessly to address college preparation, access, and completion. We’ve blazed many promising paths forward, but we have a long way to go in order to bring our solutions to scale. Gateway to College is one effort among many within the early college and dual enrollment movements to build college skills and success among first generation and low-income high school students. Programs like this, which focus both on college preparation and enrollment while students are still in high school, are critical and must be complemented by college-based programs that provide intensive support services to students who might otherwise struggle in college. The most successful of these programs help students to develop a sense of belonging within post-secondary institutions and build relationships which support them when they encounter challenges.

We should be encouraged by the positive news that more students are earning high school diplomas, but remain sober about how few students are ready or supported to earn the credential they need to lift them out of poverty. While a high school diploma is not enough, we can use the momentum of our improvement in high school graduation rates to double down on the next critical piece—genuine college readiness and a coordinated system for transition and support to ensure post-secondary success.


Nick Mathern is Associate Vice President of Policy & Partnership Development. Since 2005, he has brokered agreements between colleges, school districts, and state education agencies in order to connect communities with training, professional development, and evaluation services, as well as replication and implementation of the Gateway to College program model. Read more.





Utilizing Data to Drive Student Growth

Thursday, December 10, 2015

One of the guiding principles behind the Gateway to College model is that when disconnected or out-of-school youth take courses on a college campus they are more likely to earn a high school diploma than if they take similar courses in traditional high school settings. The premise is fairly simple – being a member of a learning community that offers attentive care, support and motivation building, students have the capability to be academically successful. Thus, on their path to a high school diploma, our students receive significant support through meaningful interactions with their peers, faculty and Gateway to College mentors. These relationships and the students’ individual efforts are the strongest contributing factors to their success; and it is a gratifying task for us to share those stories of success. One way to capture those accomplishments is through extensive data collection and analysis.

As researchers, we value data that can paint the most accurate and comprehensive picture of student growth at Gateway to College programs. Hence, our programs do a rigorous job of collecting course-level data for students, along with responses for surveys administered at the beginning and end of a school term. In efforts to measure student success, the field often relies too strongly and exclusively on students’ academic achievements measured through grades and credits earned. This approach overlooks the more social, psychological and emotional aspects of student growth measured through peer and faculty relationships, and student engagement outside the classroom. This is not to say that students’ academic progress and their social-emotional development are independent of each other. In fact, several studies have shown evidence of situational and contextual factors that influence success or failure of disconnected youth in high schools and colleges.

“Students’ classroom engagement, academic effort, and subsequent school success or failure are influenced not only by individual differences in skills, abilities, and predispositions, but also by many situational and contextual factors. Among these contextual factors, the quality of school-social relationships may be especially important.”[1]

School-social relationships, as highlighted by Goodenow (1993), offer students a “sense of belonging” or “school membership”, enabling them to feel personally valued and welcome. As the extent to which students feel accepted, respected, included and supported by others in the school environment increases, their classroom participation and school retention increases.[2]  Some of our students share their experiences with Gateway to College, which reflects how their sense of belonging shaped their success and strengthened motivation:

“I’ve made really great relationships here at GtC and I am still heavily involved with the community here. I like to try and reach out when I can when I see other struggling students.”

“…I made friends in my first term that I am still close with on and off campus. I don’t think I would have graduated high school or been ready/motivated for college and my future without gateway.”


“…if I ever had the opportunity to choose this program I would pick it. I would tell them that this feels like home…”

Student survey responses validate these sentiments. We see an average 16% increase in the students’ reported sense of belonging after their first year with Gateway to College as compared to their previous education experiences. The sense of belonging is measured using the Goodenow scale of school membership. The scale assigns students a score between 1-5, based upon their responses to several questions that determine how committed and satisfied they are with their school environment. Scores closer to 5 are indicative of greater attachment with their institution; the average score recorded was 3.6 for students who had completed one academic year with Gateway to College.

As a result of this increased sense of belonging and commitment to their colleges and education, students are more likely to persist through high school and be more prepared for their future academic or professional goals.[3] To measure their preparedness, we collect and analyze student responses from the surveys, which identify their confidence or knowledge around the credit requirements for a high school diploma and further pursuit of their academic goals. On average, Gateway to College students score 3.5 out of 4 on their awareness of future goals and educational pathways. This score has been linked to greater motivation and drive to complete their education.

Our data offers additional valuable insight into the motivation and efforts of students who succeed with Gateway to College programs. We stress the importance of turning to social, psychological and emotional indicators of student motivation and success to fully comprehend the transformative impact of Gateway to College experience and offer more remarks from Gateway to College Students:

“I feel like all of us are here for the same thing so we all motivate each other…”

“I love the Gateway to College program. It has allowed me to discover my potential as a productive citizen in society.”


Kriti Agrawal is a Data Analyst, and has been with GtCNN since June 2015. She is responsible for designing and supporting extensive data collection systems and providing related support to our partners through online training modules, group training webinars and individualized technical assistance. Read more.

[1] Goodenow, C. (1993). The psychological sense of school membership among adolescents: Scale development and educational correlates. Tufts University: Psychology in the Schools.

[2] Wehlage, G. (1989). Dropping Out: Can schools be expected to prevent it? In L. Weis, E. Farrar, & H. Petrie (Eds.), Dropouts from school. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

[3] Shoemaker, Allen L. (1980). Construct Validity of Area Specific Self-Esteem: The Hare Self-Esteem Scale

Casey Family Programs and Gateway to College Host From Foster Care to College Conference

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Nationally, the rise in the high school graduation rate to 81% has given many states and communities reason to celebrate. These improved graduation rates have not, however, reached all segments of the population. Graduation rates remain low for students of color, economically disadvantaged students, and students with limited English proficiency. The high proportion of foster youth who drop out before completing high school is especially alarming. Fewer than 50% of foster youth graduate from high school, and those who do graduate are unlikely to move on to a 4-year school. Fewer than 10% graduate from college, at a time when a college credential is increasingly critical to job prospects.

A significant number of Gateway to College students – approximately 10% of the students in our 41 programs – identify as foster youth. Increasingly, research shows that students succeed when they receive additional support services and interventions that help them navigate challenges in and out of the classroom. Approximately 70 percent of foster youth report that they want to attend college. They just do not know how. For foster youth, specific interventions are especially important for success in providing them a pathway to a postsecondary credential.

Over the course of two days, December 3 and 4, Casey Family Programs and Gateway to College National Network welcome national experts – including Dr. Daphna Oyserman of the University of Southern California – and teams from five states who are committed to improving educational outcomes for foster youth. Participants will learn about federal resources and opportunities to support foster youth, effective system approaches and interventions, and trauma and learning. Understanding the barriers these young people face in reaching educational milestones and how the issues of trauma present themselves and are responded to in a diverse, 21st century college environment are essential to increasing college access and persistence in postsecondary education.

If we are to continue to make progress toward providing pathways to postsecondary success for all students, it is essential that we work to improve outcomes for some of the most marginalized groups of students. Gateway to College National Network is proud to support Casey Family Programs in their work to support educational opportunities for foster youth, and in convening a group of fellow practitioners and leaders working with these youth in a diverse group of states. We are committed to improving the outcomes of the foster youth in our programs and, as we implement strategies and learn more, to share best practices with organizations and institutions nationwide who are helping these youth break through barriers to education and success.

We're Thankful for Students like Gabriel

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Thanksgiving is here! We’re thankful for the tenacity and perseverance of students like Gabriel.

Gabriel was failing out of school. He was facing difficulties at home and was hanging with students who encouraged him to skip class. By age 17 he was so far behind his peers he’d never be able to make up his coursework in time to graduate. Then he learned about the Gateway to College program through a friend. Through Gateway, he found his community. 

“I didn’t believe in myself when I first came here. But I’ve grown as a person. Everyone here is treated like family. Everyone here is like me. We motivate each other—keep each other going.”

Gabriel will graduate in spring 2016 with his diploma and credits toward his associate’s degree. He wants to be a social worker.

Gateway to College programs become family. Small learning cohorts inspire peer support, motivation, and accountability to succeed. Many of our students report feeling isolated, ignored, bullied, or lost in traditional high schools. The Gateway model provides each student with a dedicated advisor and counselor to help them plan their pathway to academic and personal success.

Help Gabriel and students like him realize their dream.

#GiveChange and Give a Second Chance Today!

Second Chances for All: States Must Do More to Reengage Out of School Youth

Monday, November 16, 2015

By Nick Mathern

Lateasha Brutton completed high school, but she didn’t earn her high school diploma. Like many of her peers, Lateasha advanced to the next grade level each year but did not pass the required Alabama high school exit exams. She wants her diploma, but now at age 24, the only option available to the Lowndes County resident is a GED prep course.

I get phone calls every week from young people across the country who have experienced the harsh economic realities of the US job market and want to get back in school to earn their high school diploma. They are among the 20% of young people who don't graduate with their high school class each year.  And, unfortunately, the quality of opportunities that I can share with them is dictated entirely by the city and state they are calling from. 

Fortunately, high school re-engagement opportunities are growing around the country. Each year, a few more communities and states are recognizing that we cannot pursue equitable economic opportunity, or even meet our own workforce demands, if we don't provide meaningful options for the nearly one million young people who leave school without a diploma each year. GtCNN fully supports creative policies like Washington State's Open Doors, which encourages the development of community partnerships to reengage out of school youth and has led to the creation of dozens of programs serving thousands of students. 

Other states have followed suit: In 2013 the state of Mississippi passed Mississippi Works Dual Enrollment, a program encouraging school districts to develop partnerships with community colleges to enroll out-of-school youth in order to complete their diplomas and earn workplace skills. This past summer, both of their western neighbors, Arkansas and Louisiana, enacted re-engagement legislation. Utah also passed new "dropout recovery" legislation in 2015. These states join a growing list of states, either through regulation or legislation, that encourage the reenrollment of out-of-school youth. National League of Cities' Zachia Nazarzai has outlined some exemplars

Despite encouraging efforts in some states, progress has not been even. Bills in Alabama's Senate and House that would have allowed districts to re-enroll students up to age 21 didn't make it out of committee this year. And, additional reengagement bills were left pending at the end of the session in several other states. 

These laws are critical tools for the United States' effort to fix our badly leaking education pipeline. And, we've got a long way to go. Most of these bills provide optional fixes to school districts. We need more policies like Washington's, where students can opt into programs offered by neighboring districts when their district doesn’t provide reengagement options; and Utah's, which require districts to provide recovery services. 

We need these policies EVERYWHERE. To borrow a phrase from our good friends at Opportunity Nation: "Opportunity should not be dictated by zip code." GtCNN is committed to advocate for universal reengagement opportunities. We encourage all communities and states to assess the breadth and quality of options available for their young people to overcome their barriers and help them get back on a path to academic and economic success. 

Many thanks to Madeleine Webster of the National Conference of State Legislatures (@NCSLorg) for her support in tracking new legislation in state houses across the country.


Nick Mathern is Associate Vice President of Policy & Partnership Development. Since 2005, he has brokered agreements between colleges, school districts, and state education agencies in order to connect communities with training, professional development, and evaluation services, as well as replication and implementation of the Gateway to College program model. Read more.

Community College Benefits Students and Society

Monday, November 09, 2015
Gateway to College National Network believes that all young people deserve the opportunity to thrive. We design and implement community-wide initiatives to ensure that disconnected youth are back on track, college and career ready. Gateway to College programs are hosted on community college campuses. Students earn their high school diplomas and college credits, placing them on a pathway to a meaningful postsecondary credential. Community colleges contribute greatly to the economy in their local communities, and provide more young people an opportunity to succeed.

Celebrating Success: Santa Rosa Junior College Joins GtCNN Presidents' Circle

Thursday, October 29, 2015

"A lot of us make mistakes when we're young—but we all deserve a second chance."


At 16, with her mother hospitalized, Jessica quit school to find work so she could take care of her three young siblings. After one year out of the classroom, Jessica realized that returning to school would afford her and her family greater opportunity, but didn’t know where to turn. She found the Gateway to College program at Santa Rosa Junior College in California, enrolled, and became a fiercely determined student. Conquering serious adversity, including childhood drug abuse, she graduated in spring 2015 with a 4.0 GPA. She plans to transfer to a four-year college to earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology so she can work with teens like herself. Click here to read more about Jessica’s inspiring story.

The Santa Rosa Junior College Gateway to College program sees dozens of students like Jessica each semester walk through their doors. Launching the program in fall of 2013, the college has served more than 100 formerly dropped out high school students over the past two years. A valued member of the Gateway to College National Network Presidents’ Circle, Santa Rosa Junior College is committed to helping disconnected youth in Petaluma County achieve their dreams of education and brighter futures.


Presidents’ Circle membership supports groundbreaking partnerships between colleges and local school districts. Every dollar contributed to Gateway to College National Network leverages $11 in school district funding to support a Gateway student earning her diploma AND college credits. Please join us in celebrating and supporting Santa Rosa Junior College and Gateway to College programs across the nation this fall during the Give Change campaign.

Learn how you can get involved here!


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