At a time when our nation’s economic competitiveness depends on providing every child with an education that will enable them to meet the demands of the 21st century workforce, Community College of Philadelphia’s Gateway to College program is providing pathways to higher education for about 153 young people.
On May 8, the program held a graduation celebration for the 17 participants who have received their high school diplomas since July 2008. All of the graduates participating in the ceremony, held in the Rotunda of the Mint Building, earned their diplomas at Community College of Philadelphia. They plan to continue their education either at the College or at a four-year college or university.
The Philadelphia program was one of more than 200 early college high school programs nationwide that celebrated Early College High School Week, May 4–10, honoring the commitment and success of the Early College High School Initiative.
With startup support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and other funders, early college high schools offer college courses to high school students underrepresented in higher education, including primarily low-income, minority, English language learners and first-generation college students, so they can gain the skills needed to succeed in college and in a career.
Gateway to College is unique among early college programs because it serves high school dropouts ages 16 to 20 and enrolls them as college students in a college-based program. Through Gateway, students are able to complete their high school diploma requirements while simultaneously earning college credits toward an associate’s degree or certificate. Gateway to College is currently offered at 24 colleges in 14 states, partnering with 111 school districts.
“I think that the program’s value is that it can really turn a kid’s life around,” said Gateway to College Director Carol A. Smith. “It can take someone who had given up on their education in high school and had no direction and make them not only a high school graduate, but someone who has college experience.”
Smith said ensuring these former dropouts finish high school and then launching them toward a college career significantly increases their employability.
“This program has let me know that no matter how badly you screw up, there always is a second chance,” said Berton Stone, 21, who received his high school diploma in May. Stone also earned 29 college credits that he plans to apply toward a bachelor’s degree in Secondary Education.
Stone dropped out of World Charter High School in his senior year. He was working at a fast food restaurant in Media until midnight and getting home around 2 a.m. As a result, he started falling asleep in class and his grades fell so low that he quit school. Ten months later, a mentor told him about the Community College of Philadelphia program. It was the second chance he needed. “Growing up, I did not picture myself as one of those who would be out of school before getting a diploma,” said Stone, who started Gateway classes in January 2007.
At a time when up to half of young people drop out of traditional schools, 92 percent of Early College students nationwide earn a high school diploma, and 88 percent graduate with at least some college credit. Nationally, students who have graduated from the Gateway to College program have earned both their high school diploma and an average of 42 college credits out of at least 60 needed for an associate’s degree. The college credits are earned tuition-free.