Philanthropys Challenge – College Success

Last month, I had the opportunity to attend a meeting sponsored by the grantmaking affinity group called Grantmakers for Education. The meeting challenged colleagues from grantmaking institutions to think beyond College Access, i.e. programs that ensure high school students get in to colleges, and focus instead on College Success. College Success considers the number of students who not only get into college, but complete it. The line up of speakers was impressive by any measure bringing together some of the most serious thinkers in the area.

This is a problem in the NE Ohio and in other areas the Nord Family Foundation provides support. Lorain County Community College is one of Northeast Ohio’s treasures. Its University Partnership Program is a gateway to higher education that opens opportunity for students who would otherwise not have either the funding or the time to leave home to get a college degree. Dr. Church and LCCC board are examples of how American “can-do”, tenacity and focus can realize hope in a part of the world that sees economic challenge and hardship increasing every day. The unfortunate news however is that approximately 40% to 60% of the students entering LCCC are not prepared for college work. A good many are students coming from public schools but there is also an increasingly large adult population that is returning to school after time in the workforces.

This problem is not reserved for Lorain County or Northeast Ohio. It is a national problem found at other Community Colleges across the country. Jamie Meristosis of the Lumina Foundation for Education suggests there are two levels at the Community College level that challenges to the remediation issue. First is the challenge of unprepared public school students and secondly, the problem or adults returning to the workforce.

Foundations seem to focus on the first challenge as they try to play their role in improving public schools. My own involvement with the issue leads me to the analysis of public schools in inner cities provided by Christopher Barbic, founder and head of YES Prep Public Schools, “The system is broken. The way we provide public education to inner city kids in this country does then a great disservice.”

One of the featured speakers was Dr. Michael Kirst Professor Emeritus of Education and Business Administration at Stanford University. Check hise blog site. Unprepared high school students is is a focus of his research. pondered by Dr. Michael Kirst. His main topic was the dis-articulation between how learning takes place in high school, and what is expected of students when they begin college.

A GREAT review of the issue of remediation and its definition can be found at Crosstalk. In this article, Dr. Kirst addresses the issue of remediation and college preparedness in public schools saying,

College Success Begins in High School

More than 70% of high school graduates now go on to postsecondary education. Yet, a new study of high school student engagement reveals some major concerns about the level of college preparedness of those students. See Voices of Students on Engagement: A Report on the 2006 Survey of Student Engagement out of Indiana Univeristy School of Education.

Using a national sample of grades 9-12, the survey found that:

· Fewer than half of the students go to high school because of what happens within the classroom environment
· A great majority of students are bored every day, if not in every class
· 43% spend 0-1 hour doing written homework, 83% spend 5 hours or less
· 55% spend 0 or 1 hour per week reading and studying for class, 90% spend 5 hours or fewer
· Students want more active learning such as peer working groups and presentations
· Girls report being more engaged across all dimensions of high school engagement than boys. (Girls were 58% of 4 year college graduates in 2006).

Engagement within a high school context is about a student’s relationship with the school community (adults, peers, curriculum, facilities, etc). More importantly, however, Kirst states, ” I believe that this study should raise concerns that many of these high school students will become at-risk college students who will not experience college success for the very reason that they were not sufficiently engaged in high school.” posted by The College Puzzle at 4/01/2007

Dr. Kirst’s analysis gives pause to any grantmaker attempting to “reform” schools in this country. As more foundations and affinity groups envision schools that will prepare students to succeed academically and intellectually in college.

The challenge for philanthropy is I thin, to find places where true innovation in learning is taking place and challenge the school infrastructure to bring it to scale. We would do well to visit schools and find programs that foster student engagement. In my experience, these schools make innovative use of technology to enhance already good teachers. In many instances, finding such institutions is difficult. Innovations in schools is almost impossible because public schools have become risk-averse institutions. Schools are so focused on performing well on tests, that few teachers will take the time and fewer principles will take the risk of implementing programs that will risk having students not peform well on the tests. Philanthropy will continue to have a role to serve as informed voice against the unintended negative consequences of No Child Left Behind legislation.