A Portland Community College program, which helps high school dropouts get their diplomas by taking college courses for dual credit, is turning 10 years old this June.
The 10-year anniversary of Gateway to College and related PCC Prep Alternative programs will be held from 4 to 8 p.m., Friday, June 4, at the Cascade Campus, 705 N. Killingsworth St. The event will kick off outdoors (in the Borthwick Mall) with a barbecue, music, dance performances, ice cream and other family fun.
At 5:45, the event will shift to the Cascade Gymnasium where a formal program is planned, featuring student speakers and PCC President Preston Pulliams, Nan Poppe (retired president of the Extended Learning Campus), Ron Wilkinson (PCC Foundation Board member) and Portland Public Schools Superintendent Carole Smith. Following the 10th anniversary commemoration, a graduation ceremony is set to celebrate the more than 250 graduates from the three PCC Prep programs. Light refreshments will be served.
In 10 years since it began, Gateway to College has become one of Oregon’s biggest success stories in giving high school dropouts a second chance at completing their diploma and transitioning into higher education. It challenges dropouts in the PCC district, a traditionally underserved population, with rigorous, college-level curriculum and the opportunity to earn significant college credit.
The program started with three partner school districts and 19 students, but since then has served 1,983 students locally by using a network of eight school districts to identify at-risk students. These include Portland Public Schools, Beaverton, Tigard-Tualatin, Hillsboro, Lake Oswego, David Douglas, Centennial and Sherwood.
“We were a team of people trying to solve a student need,” said program director Linda Huddle, the remaining founder at the PCC Gateway to College program. “It has been 10 years of really hard work. But then there has been all of this achievement that the students have made as they have become active private citizens. They are overcoming great challenges in order to catch up and surpass their peers. That is one of the big things about Gateway students; they’re not just getting credits for high school graduation, but are getting these credits to move into a post-secondary career.”
Success of local program leads to national attention
It might not be a surprise that Gateway to College has flourished in Oregon, where an alternative education law mandates school districts provide additional options for high school students who are not benefiting from their general comprehensive service. It started to replicate nationally when PCC was chosen by the Early College High School Initiative to copy the successful program nationwide. In 2008, the Gateway to College National Network spun off from Portland Community College to oversee this effort.
Nationwide since 2004, the Gateway to College National Network has served more than 7,000 students via 24 programs (with three more programs set to start this fall) and 110 school districts. In January, the National Network garnered a $13.1 million, three-year award to continue the expansion to additional programs. In total since 2003, the national network has earned about $26 million in money from the likes of The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Wal-Mart Foundation, Carnegie Corp. in New York, The Kresge Foundation and The Foundation to Promote Open Society to replicate the model across the country, pilot a new program that targets underprepared college students and to support current programs.
“Thousands of young people across the country are now benefitting from Gateway to College,” said Laurel Dukehart, president of the Gateway to College National Network. “The original vision has resonated with all kinds of communities. Nationally, about one-third of young people leave high school without a diploma, so this innovative program that reconnects high school dropouts with education meets a critical need. What started in Portland 10 years ago has blossomed into a national strategy working with well over 100 school districts in 16 states, and spawned an independent nonprofit organization to coordinate the effort.”
The results are hard to argue with. Students entering the Gateway to College National Network get high school diplomas at two to three times the rate of U.S. students who have dropped out at least once. Ninety-five percent of these graduates, who on average earn 41 college credits, plan to continue on to college after earning their diploma. But most important, Gateway students nationwide have an 87 percent attendance rate in their college courses.
Gateway a safety net for local dropouts
Dylan Bartle and Rebecca Williams illustrate the second chance that the Gateway program has provided to so many students across the country. In 2007, Williams was a junior at Madison High School and already a year behind her peers. Williams, whose step-mom went to Princeton University and whose dad didn’t finish high school, would have had to take night classes and summer school to catch up. But her counselor at the school mentioned Gateway as an alternative. After some starts and stops along the way that many in her situation go through, she got back into the program last winter and is on target to get into PCC’s nursing program.
“I like the college style of learning better than high school because there’s less drama,” Williams said. “When I was in high school, I was failing most of my classes and now, since I’ve been here, I get As and Bs and I do really well. I didn’t understand math at all when I was in high school. Since I’ve been going here and taking college math classes and with the way the teachers teach, I don’t know, it just clicks. I’ve been learning a lot more since I’ve been in the Gateway program than I did in high school. I pay attention more and learn more.”
In 2008, Bartle was expelled from Barlow High School and, after being out of school for almost two years, he moved to Portland and enrolled in Gateway. He now wants to become a doctor and will apply to Portland State University to do pre-med once he’s finished his transfer degree at PCC.
“It’s my own responsibility to be here,” Bartle said. “If I didn’t want to be here they’d just drop me. Even though there is more homework here, I wanted my education more at Gateway because I’m treated as an adult.”