Where’s the focus on collaboration and early education?

By Tiana Reid, Senior Editor of SocialBusiness.org

It’s September and so, like every year, there’s a breadth of blog posts and articles on improving academic success. And this is something that’s personal to me since I’ve been a student for, well, pretty much 22 years — give or take a few relatively short professional and non-professional breaks in between.

Image via Stanford Social Innovation Review

On September 4, writer Arshad Merchant (who is also a partner with Wellspring Consulting) outlined, on the Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR) blog, the most important areas in which they thought students needed help to complete their degree, and thus, improve graduate rates all around, which included:

1. Staying on track to graduate—which meant selecting a suitable major, understanding what requirements they must fulfill to graduate, and using strategies and support to improve their academic performance
2. Building their employability—through securing part-time jobs, writing a resume, and defining a desired career path
3. Maintaining sufficient financial aid—by renewing their scholarships, staying current on scholarship payments, and making smart financial decisions
4. Managing life—by staying connected with people who cared, maintaining a positive attitude, and resolving problems that might challenge their ability to graduate

The title of the piece was called “A Simple Method to Improve College Graduation Rates” and it was looking specifically at a Boston-based organization called Bottom Line that helps low-income students get into college and, of course, graduate.  The problem was that not a successful amount of them were.

So from the four areas of need outlined above, they created DEAL: “Degree (academic performance, on track to graduate); Employability; (access to financial) Aid; and Life (emotional support).” Not super innovative, huh? Which I guess is where the “simple” comes from in the title. One commenter named Yvonne C. Hunnicutt said: “Isn’t this common sense for ANY college student?!” While I don’t fully agree that this is the case, since a lot of DEAL is easier said than done, I do think most college students do recognize the necessity to keep those four areas in mind even if they don’t fully articulate it that way.

As a grad student myself, my main concern is this: why doesn’t DEAL mention the collaboration with the college itself? Most colleges and universities offer this kind of support whether it’s mentoring, career workshops, financial advising, etc. However, it is true that a lot of students (including myself as an undergrad) don’t take full advantage of these resources but they’re there.

And what about pre-college? Pre-high school even? The 2011 PBS special with Tavis Smiley Too Important to Fail shows many young black males don’t even make it to college; they don’t even graduate from high school. This, for the most part, is because of things that happen way before an organization like Bottom Line intervenes. This includes but is not limited to: poverty, institutional racism, disproportionate suspension, crime in the community and unprepared educators.

DEAL did in fact increase the graduation rate at Bottom Line, which is great, but it’s important also to go beyond that and consider who gets into Bottom Line’s program to begin with. Who is already excluded from that? As a child of a grade one teacher (so I’ve had too many dinners to count where the topic revolved around pedagogy), I’m a firm believer that educational success (employability, knowledge, literacy, etc.) must be considered holistically from the early days.

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