Graduating from college is not as simple as it seems, especially for students from low-income families who are often the first in their families to be attending college. Adjusting to college life can be such a struggle for these students that most who drop out do so in their first year, and nearly 30 percent of college students won’t return at all.
My work at the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation focuses on ensuring that all students have a fighting chance at graduating from college. In a perfect world, 100 percent of students who enroll in college would graduate. Not only do we know that those who graduate from college have a more prosperous life, we also know that those who start but drop out are faced with debt they incurred during their time at college.
We invest in organizations that are making a difference for that 30 percent by using unique solutions to ensure more low-income students graduate from college. OneGoal is one of those organizations. Their program spans 10th grade through freshman year of college and is led by high school teachers who already know their students well. These teachers, known as Program Directors, are trained how to specifically address the college application, selection, enrollment, and transition process and form trusting relationships with their students that extend beyond the walls of a high school classroom and into college. With this trusting relationship in place, students feel comfortable relying on these teachers for support through their first year of college, support they aren’t likely to find from family members who never attended college.
And it’s working — 86 percent of OneGoal students who enroll in college are persisting into their sophomore year. Watch this video of a student and his teacher/program director to get a firsthand look into how it works. It will give you some insight into their one goal: college graduation. Period.
Chris: I grew up in the small town Lawrence, which is north of Boston. I have a wonderful mother, a wonderful dad and three beautiful sisters. A saying through my whole family is, “Be better.” I knew since I was little, everybody wanted what’s best for me and knew that college was what’s best for me and I knew no matter what, I had to get a better education for myself. None of us really went through the college process. We really didn’t have anybody to really talk to about that. Throughout my high school career, Maureen Santiago, she was like a second mother to me. She always was helping me with not only my academics, but my personal life as well. If it weren’t for her, I don’t know where I would have been.
Maureen: The way OneGoal and myself helped Chris and his family and other members of Lawrence high school, when the parents don’t understand the process, they don’t understand financial aid, we are a person that they can come to. For Chris, going into Salem State was challenging.
Chris: I’ve always been home around my family 24/7, and now I can’t really do that. Since I’m the oldest, I have to be that role model for them.
Maureen: He needed to learn independence. How do I have my freedom but also reign back and do my academics?
Chris: I thought I was doing okay because I used my previous high school process to just get by and just do it. But at the beginning of the semester of my freshman year, I wasn’t doing so well. When I saw my grades, they weren’t as I expected. Maureen told me to go to see an academic advisor.
Maureen: He made the appointment to meet with the counselor as I was on the phone. Yeah, it’s okay to not be perfect. It’s okay to make mistakes, but what do you do now? He got the help he needed and he passed all his classes first semester.
Chris: Because of Maureen and OneGoal, quitting is just not an option for me. When I graduate college, that’s going to be the day that I know I did better. It’s going to be the first stepping stone for me to be having a better life.
Maureen: This is what OneGoal is all about, junior, senior, and freshman year in college. You always want them to be better and if you can help them, you don’t want to stop. It’s the phone calls, the weekly check ins, just because it technically on paper is done, it will never be done.