Mapping the Opportunity Gap: the Importance of Location in Serving Students

Monday, August 31, 2015
By Devora Shamah

Each community is unique and it is important that we understand these nuances across our network. Gateway to College National Network currently works with 41 partners in 21 states. The data we regularly collect provide basic demographic characteristics of the student population at each program. These data show how gender, ethnicity, and age ratios differ at each program. We know how far students have to go to reach their high school diploma, and their average GPA before entering the program. As we explored other ways to understand the communities that GtC programs serve, we looked to publically available data as a way to learn more. 

With the generous support of the Carnegie Corporation of New York we were able to undertake a new research project last summer. Using census data, we attached community characteristics to available zip code information. We used maps to display this information, which provided a visual representation of how programs differ. These maps illustrate not only how community resources differ, but how the size of the geographic region each program serves is different. Some programs serve students who live close, while other programs serve students coming from near and far. Some programs serve many school districts, adding a layer of complexity in making sure high school requirements are met and transportation is not an obstacle for students. 

We examined income, education levels in communities, and the intersections of race and poverty around the network. We learned that 8 GtC programs have 50% or more students living in one of the poorest zip codes in the United States. While the students themselves may not come from families that are living below the poverty line, communities with concentrated poverty have fewer resources and present different challenges to young people than communities where more families have resources[1]. This information is useful to allow programs to prioritize community partnerships and advocate for the resources students need.

The analysis highlighted programs serving communities with resources. For example, 6 programs are in communities where education attainment is higher than the national average. For these programs, these data highlight community resources that can be leveraged for students. Communities with more adults who have successfully navigated college provide a large pool of mentors to assist students navigating the system as well as examples of what opportunities come with college degrees and credentials. Again, the students may or may not come from families that reflect the average, but their community likely has more resources. 


This analysis reminded us of how poverty and race intersect in our country. Twenty-eight percent of GtC students live in a zip code where the majority of the population identifies as people of color. Recent events in our country demonstrate that segregated communities often experience strict policing and unfair lending practices, along with other legacies of racial segregation. Sixty percent of GtC students living in communities that are home to a majority of people of color live in communities where the poverty rate is above 20%, serving as another illustration of how often poverty and race go hand in hand in our country. 

GtC students have high aspirations for their education, career, and role in our communities. Regardless of the neighborhood surrounding the college campus GtC students attend, it is important to understand what neighborhoods students are coming from and traveling through to get there. Gateway to College students are successful in part due to the holistic support that staff members provide to support students as they navigate in and out of school challenges. Our mapping work provides network staff with more tools to understand how communities are unique and provides a new lens on how to leverage community resources to deliver more opportunities for students as they reengage with their education. Our programs work hard to honor the strengths and experiences each student brings to Gateway. Attention to collecting and interpreting data assists staff and students to better negotiate the complexity of aspiring higher, while honoring the work and struggles of their families and neighbors. 

 The full report is available here

[1] Charles, C. Z. (2003). The Dynamics of Racial Residential Segregation. Annual Review of Sociology, 29(1), 167–207.

Gateway to College Back to School: #OnMySide

Saturday, August 22, 2015
back to school gtcnnGoing back to school in fall can be exciting—seeing friends, taking new classes, starting a new chapter. But, if you’ve been out of the classroom for months and it doesn’t look like you’ll be able to graduate on time, it can be discouraging. You watch as your friends take their next steps to graduation without you. But then your school counselor or a friend tells you about Gateway to College, a program that could give you a second chance at your education. Would you take it?

None of our students come back to class without support and encouragement—at some point we all need a helping hand. Gateway to College provides youth with caring mentors and academic coaches who are on their side throughout their journey to graduation.  This back-to-school season, we want you to share your story. Who helped you succeed in school or take the next step to college? Who encouraged you? Who was on your side?

My teacher, Tammy, was always #OnMySide. She helped me with math when I was struggling and always believed that I could succeed. – Roxanne

Tell Your Story 

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We’re diving into another school year full of stories, triumphs, and new successes! Please join our newsletter and stay up to date on inspiring moments from Gateway to College programs, new initiatives, what we’re learning, and how you can get involved. Join the Gateway family!

Gateway to College Strategic Enrollment Plans

Friday, August 21, 2015


The Gateway to College National Network office works closely with our programs on initiatives intended to support and enhance their work with students and in the communities. One such project has developed over the past 18 months, where national office staff has worked with eight programs to increase their enrollments through the development and implementation of new enrollment tactics.

In the spring of 2014, the eight programs gathered for a strategic planning session to determine their strengths and shortcoming when it came to enrolling new students. The planning session led to the formation of teams, who worked together to create and implement Strategic Enrollment Plans in early 2015. Their work over the past year culminated in the Gateway to College Summer Enrollment Conference, hosted in Portland in June 2015. At the conference, the enrollment teams shared best practices with colleagues from 36 Gateway to College programs who, in turn, began development of their own enrollment plans. 

As we move in to fall, and a new academic year, the eight enrollment teams are continuing to roll out their plans and GtCNN staff is working on producing enrollment elearning modules that will be made available for all programs in the network.

100K Opportunities Initiative

Thursday, August 20, 2015


In our work, we talk about the importance of holistic support in student success. In Gateway to College programs, that support often comes in the form of a caring and highly trained staff member who helps students navigate life challenges that occasionally get in the way of graduation and career plans. On a larger scale, we know that when entire communities work together, their young people succeed. Out of school and out of work youth need this community-based holistic support to help them finish school and find a pathway to success.

This month, 29 major U.S. companies stepped up in a manner rarely seen before, with a commitment to hire 100,000 out of school and out of work youth by 2018. These young people – identified as opportunity youth – often face systemic barriers to jobs and education. Gateway to College was created in part to provide a pathway around these barriers for young people. We applaud the commitment of companies such as Starbucks and Alaska Airlines, and funders like the Schultz Family Foundation and W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

The impact of hiring 100,000 out of school and out of work youth is remarkable. Perhaps more importantly, these young people have companies that believe in them. This belief will grow exponentially as more companies, foundations, local leaders and donors realize that a commitment to out of school and out of work youth is a wise investment for not only their communities, but the companies that hire these young people. In April, GtCNN’s Director of Development, Lauren Johnson, and Gateway student, Tekoa Hewitt, of Mott Community College in Flint, Michigan, were in Seattle with the National Council of Youth Leaders as this visionary commitment was first being discussed. Gateway to College looks forward to working with these local and national partners to provide more pathways to meaningful postsecondary credentials and future employment opportunity.

Student Profiles: Metropolitan Community College

Wednesday, August 19, 2015


Gateway to College at Metropolitan Community College is made up of students from all backgrounds. Most of our students face serious struggles, but many of them rise above and find success. These student profiles present a picture of how our students persist and ultimately graduate.

“I think the program was a good fit for me because it had everything to help me accomplish my goals I wanted to accomplish. It helped me get started on my college career.” -Felicia

Jennie became a GtC student in the fall of 2012 and will graduate this spring. She left traditional high school to care for her family. Jennie was very close to finishing her graduation requirements when she made this decision and came to us as an eager 20-year-old with a history of great grades and honors classes. She spent two quarters working with GtC to finish her last few credits and begin her college career, while working part time to support her family. Her strong work ethic and personality will continue to help her as she pursues her academic interests after graduation.

TaQuila joined the GtC program in the fall of 2012. She really did not need very many credits to graduate but was eager to be in college and reengage with her education. She didn’t always fit in the high school classroom and found every reason she could to skip class and stay home. The small environment and quiet halls of the GtC building were alluring to TaQuila as she came to learn about the program. She found success in the college classes she took and is eager to walk at commencement and begin her studies in health care.

“Gateway has helped me find where I want to be in life and helped me find the steps necessary to get me there.” -Steve

Gerard came to GtC after finding himself too far behind to graduate high school on time. Gerard takes on a lot of responsibilities, but continues to grow each quarter. He works a number of jobs, is involved in his parish, is a diligent student, and loves his roles in his family. Gerard’s dedication to his job and genuine eagerness to please earned him a newspaper story and a national award for job excellence. Gerard is on target to graduate.

Amber just had a child. She started the GtC program in the spring of 2012 and plans to graduate this summer. Since becoming a mom, Amber has decided to step up her credit earning abilities and has worked with multiple alternative pathways to finish up what she started so many years ago. Her drive has earned her acceptance to a local university. She is so excited to transfer credits and continue her academic career in the fall.

“Gateway to College was the perfect option for me since high school wasn’t. The values and habits taught to me will follow me everywhere I go.” -Jose

What We're Reading - June 2015

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Stories from our field that help inform our work

“More Rigorous GED Spurs Jitters, Competition” Education Week

      • GED announced a new, more rigorous test. Numbers of test takers spiked at the end of 2013, then dropped significantly in 2014.
      • States are adding options such as HiSET and TASC to the GED, dramatically changing the landscape.

“Oregon hurting nation's drive to improve high school graduation rates, report says” The Oregonian

Oregonian covers America’s Promise Building a Grad Nation
Oregon students from all backgrounds fare poorly compared to their peers from around the country.

“Academic pathways fuel reforms” Community College Daily

  • Community College Daily looks at how colleges are using student pathways as a means of increasing student success.
  • Oregon’s Career Pathways initiative is highlighted - eases and facilitates student transition from high school to community college, from precollege courses to credit postsecondary programs and from community college to university or employment.

“Budget proposal is mixed for foster youth” Ed Source

  • California Governor Jerry Brown proposes funding a program to help foster youth who are attending community college.
  • Foster youth advocates are critical that the budget does not include an increase in funds to a service that helps K-12 students be successful in school.

“Cap and Gown” New York Times

  • Inspirational commencement speeches from around the country.

“Fewer than a quarter of Oregon community college students complete degrees, audit says” The Oregonian

  • An audit by the Oregon Secretary of State showed that only 24 percent of Oregon community college students received a degree within seven years.
  • Oregon ranks 32nd out of 36 states in community college completion rates.
  • Article talked about community college completion being a major impediment to the state reaching its 40/40/20 goals.

“The Upwardly Mobile Barista” The Atlantic

  • The Atlantic explores whether the plan from Starbucks and Arizona State University is a model for helping more Americans reach the middle class.
  • Enrollment counselors reflect Starbucks’ model of high touch service in an effort to work closely with employees to help navigate application and financial aid challenges.
  • Howard Schultz - “We can’t be a bystander, and we can’t wait for Washington, and I strongly believe that businesses and business leaders must do more for their people and more for the communities they serve.”

In Her Words: Kayla's Story

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

MWCC-Kayla-by-herself-ADJEach individual is very different from one another. This makes experiences and obstacles different for each student. Academics was never the problem for me. While English was my toughest subject I was still able to complete the work to make satisfactory requirements. However, I did struggle with my health. Since the age of thirteen I have dealt with reoccurring kidney stones and infections. Due to my illness, I missed several days of school and was bullied for being different. Because my illness was not visible many students did not understand and assumed I was lying to gain attention. In addition, in the beginning of my senior year of high school I discovered that I was pregnant. This only made my health concerns worse and I developed several new ones. I needed to be induced at only 32 weeks gestation due to severe preeclampsia and HELLP syndrome. To add to my long list of complications, this happened in the middle of my spring semester. Even though, I had a rough senior year I was able to still pass my classes and graduate on time. Through all of this, I still tried to stay connected to my education.

I did my best to attend my classes and complete my work on time. It was not easy but I managed. I even tried to continue working as a waitress at a local bar. It was difficult to stay on my feet for long periods of time but I certainly needed the money to be able to provide for my son. Unfortunately, I did have to end volunteering at my local hospital. As much as I enjoyed what I accomplished there it became too hard to continue classes, working, and volunteering through my difficult pregnancy and stressful last year of high school. Through all of this I tried very hard to remain positive and focus on accomplishing my goals.

I am very grateful to have completed high school all while being only two classes away from my associate's degree. Looking back, joining Gateway to College was the best decision I have ever made. However, I do not plan to stop here. My goal is to gain my associates degree in Liberal Arts and Sciences then transfer to a four year institution to further my education as a pre-medical major. As this career path will then require graduate school.

Graduations are truly something to celebrate. A contribution to Gateway to College National Network helps more pathways open for students like Kayla. It’s so easy! Give now

Identical Story, Different Dreams: Ashley and Alisha's Story

Monday, June 15, 2015

STLCC-Ashley-and-Alisha-Faces-of-STLCCFlorissant Valley Campus. Originally published on St. Louis Community College's blog

Ashley and Alisha, identical twins from North County, were just 16 when they dropped out of high school. They had lost their mother to breast cancer, and all hope.

“Growing up, Mum made sure that school came first before anything else,” said Ashley. “When she passed, everything changed.”

The twins dropped out because family support ceased and financial issues arose. They took minimum wage jobs at Ponderosa and kept chugging along for three years until they realized that they were at a dead end.

“I was trying to look up GED information online and information about Gateway to College popped up,” said Alisha. “I called and found out that we still had the opportunity to get our high school diplomas even though we had been out of school for three years.”

A promise, a commitment, and a few checked boxes later, both were admitted to the Gateway to College program at St. Louis.

Gateway to College has programs in 42 colleges in 23 states. Through the program, formerly dropped out high school students are able to complete their diploma requirements on a college campus while simultaneously earning credits toward a college degree or certificate. In addition to covering tuition costs, the program also pays for student fees and books.

Ashley said the one-on-one support was phenomenal.

“Getting a diploma or going to university was something beyond our reach,” she said. “We didn’t know how to get to that point but the program helped us get there.”

Added Alisha: “Without Gateway to College, we’d still be saying, ‘Baked potato or fries’ or ‘How would you like your steak done?’”

Wendell Covington, program director, said STLCC currently serves the Ferguson-Florissant, Normandy, Ritenour and Riverview Gardens school districts. Forty students are enrolled in the program, which takes about two to three years to complete. Covington said all the college courses have been aligned to meet high school and college graduation requirements.

Each student receives a detailed, individualized academic plan and ongoing support from a resource specialist who serves as coach, mentor and adviser. During the students’ first semester, they take classes exclusively with other Gateway to College students, including a college success course that focuses on study habits, time management, test-taking strategies and other techniques for succeeding in college. After the first semester, students are mainstreamed into courses with other college students, but continue receiving intensive academic and social supports.

Students complete the Gateway to College program when they have enough high school credits to earn their diploma; however, they are strongly encouraged and supported to complete their associate degree. Students receive diplomas from the last school district they attended.

To date, STLCC’s Gateway to College program has served 133 students in the suburban North County school districts. Covington said they have a graduation rate of 32 percent, 1 percent higher than the national network average.

“We could not have done it without Mr. Covington, Christine Meyer, Terri Buford and the entire Gateway to College family at Florissant Valley,” both twins said. “They gave us everything we needed to succeed.”

The twins received their high school diploma in 2012 and have been accepted to Southeast Missouri State University. Ashley plans to major in education while Alisha plans to major in criminal justice.

“You can see the growth in them academically and socially,” Covington said. “That’s what the program is all about.”

STLCC’s Gateway to College program began serving students at its Florissant Valley campus in fall 2008. As the first dropout recovery program in Missouri that also provides students with college credit, Gateway to College is meeting a critical need in the region.

The program is supported by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Wal mart Foundation, Edna McConnel Clark Foundation, Citi, Express Scripts, AT&T, St. Louis Chess Club and Scholastic Center, University of Missouri-St. Louis and Better Family.

By Rachel Gomez

Graduations are truly something to celebrate. A contribution to Gateway to College National Network helps more pathways open for students like Ashley and Alisha. It’s so easy! Give now

[Central Programs] Never Give Up: Allison's Story

Thursday, June 11, 2015

OCC-Fehr-Qurban-Ali-with-Teacher"There was a point in my life where everything came crashing down," she said.

At 19, Allison, with attention deficit disorder and test anxiety, had a breakdown.

But like all Gateway Scholars she didn’t give up. Today, Allison has a job, her own place, and is back on track, attending the Gateway to College program at Owens Community College in Ohio.

Allison says she thinks she's found a second chance in an educational setting geared toward her. "Here," she said, "they actually care."

Owens received a $325,000 start-up grant for the program, which will serve up to 150 students during the next three years. Students attend at no charge at Owens' Learning Center at The Source in downtown Toledo. They receive books, lunch, and transportation. During the first term, they take reading, writing, math, and college skills courses in small groups.

But more than the programming, the initiative gives students with fragile educational drives the support more traditional paths might not offer.

There's the formal help, with mentors, advisors, and coaches. If you forget a pen, the Learning Center's director, Willie Williams, told students, staff will get you one. If you need bus tokens, they've got them.

"Ask for it," he said, "and we will find ways to support you."

All the students on Monday said they wanted to succeed, but Gateway lead resource officer James Jackson, Sr., challenged them on their drive, a legitimate question because most had given up on school at some point. They'll need to want to graduate more than anything they've ever wanted, even with the staff's help.

"We want it for you guys," Mr. Jackson said, "but we can't give it to you."

Gateway students are courageous and the decision they make to return to school is not one they take lightly. Allison’s story is one of thousands.

Graduations are truly something to celebrate. A contribution to Gateway to College National Network helps more pathways open for students like Allison. It’s so easy! Give now

Steps to Ensure Oregon Students Graduate from High School Prepared for College

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

_PCC_OR_Grad_2014 (7)

It’s graduation season. This month, 32,000 Oregon students will walk across a stage to the sounds of cheering family and friends as they receive their high school diplomas. We should be proud of each one of those graduates and do everything we can to support their continued education. However, we still have progress to be made before we can be proud of the system that produced them. One in four students do not graduate from high school on time and, of those, many never receive a diploma. Equally concerning is that many of those 32,000 students are not prepared to succeed in college.

Assuming Governor Brown continues the previous administration’s aspirational 40-40-20 plan, we have much more work to do to realize that commitment. We cannot achieve that goal when fewer than 75% of Oregonians complete high school on time. Our state must focus public support and attention on efforts to increase graduation rates, reengage off-track and out of school students, and provide meaningful pathways to postsecondary credentials for all youth that match the needs of our growing economy.

For the past two years, Oregon has sat at or near the bottom of all states in high school graduation rates. Oregon Deputy Superintendent Rob Saxton is correct in stating that Oregon leaves itself fewer loopholes than some other states in accounting for all its students, but it is of little importance whether Oregon is last or almost last. Neither spot will enable Oregon to increase its global competitiveness. We need an education system that puts Oregon on equal footing with the highest-performing states, not the lowest. Three key strategies can help Oregon graduate more students and prepare them for post-secondary success:

  1. We must ensure that more students graduate on time by expanding early warning systems and reducing chronic absenteeism. Over the past decade, graduation rates have increased dramatically in communities where attention has been paid to the needs of students in all grades. We must continue to build these efforts and we can do more.
  1. We must provide more ways to reengage students who are off-track or have dropped out of high school. Our graduation rate reflects, in part, the fact that many young Oregonians have given up on their education. Though most of these young people know that a high school diploma and a post-secondary credential are essential for their future, countless social, academic, and economic challenges have pulled them off track. We must incentivize all school districts to create programs and pathways back to education so all students feel safe and supported, and can ultimately complete their education.
  1. We must ensure that earning a high school diploma means being prepared for post-secondary education. In May, the Oregonian reported on a study showing that 75% of Oregon community college students had to take non-credit remedial classes when they arrived on campus. An audit by Secretary of State Jeanne Atkins further showed that only 24% of Oregon community college students received an associate’s degree within seven years. If Oregon is going reduce its reliance on imported talent, we must better prepare our high school students for post-secondary success. Our students will benefit from more programs, such as dual enrollment or early college opportunities that provide access to authentic college experiences while in high school.

So while high school graduation should be a time for celebration, it is also time to reflect on what we can do to ensure that the more than 25% who don’t walk across the stage this year are not forgotten.  If we think about graduation instead as a commencement, we should also reflect on whether our graduating students are ready to commence their postsecondary careers.

Each of these strategies represents an understanding that high school graduation is a critical stepping stone for young Oregonians and for our state to meet the needs of our economy. And, each of them represents an investment. Our current lower-than-average education spending has only gotten us to where we are today, and a forward-thinking investment in education – particularly during a strengthening economy – is one that we must make for the future of Oregon. For next June, let’s build an education system that ensures all of Oregon’s students walk across that stage.


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