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Report Finds Promise in Community-Wide Approach to College Completion

It not only takes village, but an entire community working together to raise a college graduate. That's the philosophy behind grants that went to seven cities to encourage collaboration between K-12 schools, community colleges, four-year universities, businesses, government, parents, and students to improve postsecondary success.

A report on progress made with the Bill & Melinda Gates Community Partnerships Learning in Partnership (CLIP) and Partners for Postsecondary Success (PPS) initiatives was released this week. It offers ideas for getting more students into college and supporting them to completion, based on the $20 million projects that began in 2009.

(The Gates Foundation supports coverage of the education industry and K-12 innovation in Education Week.)

The Philadelphia-based OMG Center for Collaborative Learning evaluated the work and summarized the lessons learned in the report, Building Community Partnerships in Support of Postsecondary Completion Agenda.

Communities worked together to build awareness, share data, develop new policies, and come up approaches that would be sustainable for motivating students in college. While no single model emerged, there are some strong examples in various cities, Sarah Singer Quast, a senior project manager with OMG, said in an interview. 

For instance, in San Francisco and Riverside, Calf., educators and policymakers worked together on policy changes to help encourage students to continue their education. The high schools added "second-chance" courses for seniors who were not on track academically to be college-ready by graduation. Working with the community college, seniors who pass those courses can now skip the college-placement tests and are given priority enrollment. "Hopefully, it is something that will strengthen pathways into community college," Quast said.

In Brownsville, Texas, the United Way convened community partners around a college-going agenda, said Quast. School district leaders began to analyze postsecondary data to see where improvements were needed. The report explains how the community developed a student-ambassador program where college students went back to their high schools and helped with a class to prepare students for college. It began as an optional class during lunch, but became so popular that it was integrated into an existing course so more students could be exposed to the information.

Quast said the report shows that educators need to think about higher-level policy changes and how that translates into practice. This initiative helped facilitate conversations between teachers and professors and others in the community about how to best help students and create seamless pathways to college and career, said Quast. Communities learned that having some quick, quality wins early on helped to propel their work and tapping into an array of stakeholders helped in developing community-wide solutions.

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