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Alternative high school program goes national with Gates Foundation grant

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by Susan HerefordPortland Community College recently won a $4.85 million, five-year grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to take its successful alternative high school program College Bound to eight other community colleges across the country. Among alternative programs, PCC’s College Bound is unique because students are able to earn college credit while working toward a high school diploma. Plus, the program relies on strong partnerships with local school districts that contract with PCC to re-enroll the high school dropouts.tutoring.The college currently has working relationships with four metro-area school districts: Portland, Beaverton, Tigard-Tualatin and Lake Oswego.Chet Edwards, director of Educational Options at Portland Public Schools, calls the operation "a pretty bold dynamic. From the school district’s perspective, this is taking primarily older students and getting them back into the system. Traditionally, you get a GED and that’s the end of the line. But in College Bound, students have options — a GED, or a high school diploma and on to college. We’re using the state law, which allows students to attend high school until they’re 21, and getting them back."College Bound enrolls approximately 400 students annually. The three-year-old program works with students ages 16 to 20. The average age is 17. Most come to PCC having earned just seven high school credits and D grade point average. Despite these students’ history of failure, director Linda Huddle says College Bound has been able to achieve a retention rate of 60 percent. "We expect achievement,"adds Huddle. "Students are screened very carefully to ensure that they are ready and serious about meeting academic challenges. The program’s success, both academically and financially, depends on their commitment and attendance."It offers small classes of about 20 students who take reading, writing, math and study skills before starting college-level work. Students usually take about three years to complete both a high school diploma and make significant progress toward an associate’s degree. About half of the students go on to a four-year school.PCC is working the Gates Foundation to identify the eight new community colleges sites. Eventually, the new programs will serve 2,600 more students, or about 325 students at each community college campus. The grant will also allow PCC to write curriculum and student service materials, design a new data base collection system, refine career paths for students, study student retention, and set up a transition program for students to continue at Portland State University.In a survey prepared by Jobs for the Future, a Boston-based education and advocacy organization, no other alternative high school combines a simultaneous high school and college education for dropouts, plus multiple entry points for youth at varying skills and multiple career paths. Nan Poppe, dean of continuing education at PCC, believes "the effectiveness of this program, its scale of operations and the potential to apply it elsewhere,"resulted in the $4.85 million award from the Gates Foundation. The program often serves youth who may have young children of their own, may not be native speakers, must help support their families, or have other personal issues that challenge their ability to stay in school and succeed.

About James Hill

James G. Hill, an award-winning journalist and public relations writer, has been the Communications Specialist for the Office of Public Affairs at Portland Community College since November of 1999. A graduate of Portland State University, J... more »

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