We are heartened by the news that Oregon’s on-time high school graduation rate not only continues to increase, but that many historically underserved groups saw increases larger than the state average. However, we still have a long way to go in order to ensure that all of Oregon’s young people complete high school ready for success in college and career.
More than one in five students still do not graduate from high school on time and, of those, many never receive a diploma. Those who do graduate high school are often left unprepared to succeed in college or in the workplace. A 2015 study from the Institute of Education Sciences showed that 75% of Oregon community college students had to take non-credit remedial classes when they arrived on campus.
With the passage of Measure 98 in 2016, Oregon voters recognized the dual challenge of graduating more students and ensuring that they are ready for college and careers. Funding from the measure is now in the hands of districts, and it is making a difference.
To ensure that all of our students complete high school prepared for what’s next, we must not ignore the most vulnerable youth, those who have been in foster care, have experienced homelessness, or have been impacted by the juvenile justice system, populations where students of color and LGBTQ youth are significantly overrepresented. Currently, just over 50% of these students graduate from high school and few enroll in college. Those who do continue in college are unlikely to persist due to a whole host of barriers. The costs of failure can be profound for both the students themselves and for the communities in which they live.
A program that Gateway to College National Network introduced in 2017, PDX Bridge, is making dual enrollment opportunities available these students, providing a supported pathway into and through the first year of college. PDX Bridge is a collaborative involving schools, state agencies, nonprofits, and community colleges, with funding from Meyer Memorial Trust, the James F. and Marion L. Miller Foundation, the Oregon Community Foundation and others.
Research demonstrates that taking college courses while in high school significantly increases students’ likelihood and readiness to matriculate to postsecondary education after graduation. The effect is especially strong for low-income and first-generation college students. Seemingly small barriers can derail a student’s progress, and PDX Bridge is designed to proactively address these. Students participating in PDX Bridge receive wraparound supports to help them prepare for and enroll in college while they are still in high school. Early indications are showing that the program is effective – of the 25 students who completed PDX Bridge in 2018, 22 are currently enrolled in college and career training, or they have completed an industry credential.
Oregon needs an education system that puts our students on equal footing with the highest-performing states, but we must make sure that our most vulnerable youth are not left behind. Collaboratives like PDX Bridge ensure that our schools, colleges, and agencies are working together to provide the necessary supports to ensure that they do succeed. And when given the opportunities and right supports, they can thrive in college and beyond.
Associate Vice President
Gateway to College National Network