In the U.S., the gap between students who have the opportunity to graduate high school and college and those who can’t widens each year. In 1990, the U.S. ranked first in four-year degree attainment — since then, we’ve dropped to twelfth.
For students who don’t graduate high school and don’t go on to earn college degrees, this can mean a tougher life for them and their families. College-educated young people have far lower unemployment and poverty rates — and are more likely to live longer and healthier lives. For the country as whole, current high school drop out rates mean billions of dollars in unrealized economic growth. Simply put, building a stronger pipeline to college not only provides individuals with new opportunities; it also boosts the national economy and provides a foundation for a stronger future.
Andy Carney, Senior Vice President and California Region Retail Executive at Chase recently spoke with David Silver, Chief Executive Officer of College Track, a national program that empowers students from underserved communities to graduate from college.
Q: Why is the opportunity to graduate college so critical?
David Silver: According to our research, a student who graduates from high school could earn up to $20,000 less per year than a student who graduates from college. It’s not just about money, though. They’re going to have much less satisfaction, their life expectancy will be shorter, and frankly, it has a ripple effect on the community and on their families. On the other hand, when a student graduates from college, their child will be three times as likely to graduate from college as well.
Q: Why is it critical for the nation as a whole to build a stronger pipeline to college and to create opportunities for all students to graduate from college?
David Silver: We talk about the American dream and we talk about the idea of equality. We’re not delivering on that dream. If you come from a low-income neighborhood, you have less chance to graduate from high school college-ready, less chance to graduate from college, and less chance to have an economically viable future. That’s not acceptable.
This is about justice. This is about making sure that all students across the country have a true opportunity to not just go to college but to graduate from college. Each time one of these students’ graduates, there is potential for a lasting effect across their community, our nation and even the U.S. economy.
Q: What are the key elements that can help students, regardless of their situation, realize their potential to graduate from high school and college?
David Silver: When it comes down to it, students need two things: the skills to succeed and the belief that they can do so. I like to call this second element grit. When kids have role models to demonstrate that if they put the effort is they can see results, they can graduate high school, get into college, succeed through college and enter the workforce. Developing this sense of resiliency and confidence is a large, important part of what we do.
Q: Tell us about College Track as an example of a program that helps create the opportunity for college graduation for all students.
David Silver: Programs like ours provide sustained, constant support to the kids we serve. For College Track that means ten full years, from the summer before ninth grade all the way through the finish line of graduation from college.
Financially, we provide scholarship support and remove financial barriers. We provide academic support in high school as well as access to additional resources on campus. Once a student reaches the end of our high school program, having attended sessions with us two to three days a week, three hours a day, that equates to an extra year of high school. It’s the robust and comprehensive nature of the program that really makes us unique and successful.
Q: How do you use data to inform your work and gauge success?
David Silver: We are very focused on evaluation, data and results. Our research indicates that less than 25 percent of students that are African American or Latino in California end up high school graduates and eligible to go to college, whereas a full 92 percent of our College Track students graduate high school and are eligible to go to a four-year college.
Q: You’ve identified a model that works — what are the plans to scale this approach nationally?
David Silver: Our goal is to serve 10,000 students across the nation within ten years — to replicate the national college completion pipeline across this country. Frankly, I don’t think we have a choice. The reality is, in this country if we’re truly committed to the American dream, and if we’re truly committed to equity and educational equality, we must provide with a pathway to not only get into college but to graduate from college. Until we reach the day when every student, regardless of his or her zip code, has the opportunity to get into and through college, we have to keep scaling.