Can alternative pathways to college address student debt, enrollment concerns?

Declining college enrollment and growing concerns about student retention and success have prompted education leaders to redouble their focus on non-traditional pathways to college that prepare students for higher education and reduce student debt. In several school districts, those pathways also include academic resources and financial supports designed to ease students’ transition to higher education and post-secondary careers.

Related: Gates Foundation provides grants to early college, dual enrollment programs >

Non-traditional pathways to college

In Massachusetts, popular vocational schools (“voc-techs”) like Bay State vocational-technical high school combine academic classwork with vocational instruction so that students graduate with industry-recognized credentials and increased college readiness, according to The Hechinger Report. Students earn a paycheck for part-time work with a local business, while attaining on-the-job experience and a high school degree.

Minnesota’s Post-Secondary Enrollment Options (PSEO), meanwhile, offer Minnesota public and charter school students in grades 10-12 access to free college courses at nearby college campuses, The Washington Post reports. Since the PSEO program began in Minnesota in 1985, over 100,000 students have participated in the program, says The Minnesota Spokesman Recorder. People for PSEO, a nonprofit that advocates for the program, says that by earning college credit, participating students saved $59.8 million in college costs in fiscal year 2019.

Pathways in Technology Early College High school, or P-TECH, programs provide students from underserved communities with opportunities to earn a high school diploma and a no-cost associate’s degree in a science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM) field while gaining work experience through mentorships and paid internships. Qualifying students who participate in P-TECH programs at The University of North Texas (UNT) at Dallas receive additional wraparound services, including scholarships, mentorship opportunities, and financial literacy training, thanks to a recent $1.5 million grant from The Greater Texas Foundation, according to The Dallas Morning News. The grant will help “remove barriers to higher education and create pathways to bachelor’s degrees that lead to socioeconomic growth,” UNT Dallas President Bob Mong said in a quoted statement.

Some pathways that combine academics with college coursework and career training need more transparency so that students and their families can gauge these programs’ success, experts explain in The Hechinger Report. Research shows that early career and college programs increase students’ likelihood of completing high school and enrolling in college. However, more data is needed to understand how equitable these programs are, how many students are completing these pathways, and how many are enrolling in college afterward.

Pre-college outreach programs at Georgetown

As part of Georgetown’s commitment to improving access to higher education for students from diverse cultural and economic backgrounds, the university hosts several pre-college programs. Housed in the Center for Multicultural Equity and Access, the programs offer pathways to higher education for students in public middle and high schools in the District of Columbia.

Through college preparation workshops, career exploration activities, study abroad excursions, and exposure to rigorous college course work, the programs familiarize students with higher education. In their senior year, participating high school students in the College Exposure-Dual Enrollment Program take first-year college-level courses at Georgetown University and local colleges in the D.C. area, allowing them to earn college credit and ease the transition to campus life.

Related: Georgetown programs introduce college to underserved students in grades 6-12 >

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