Philadelphia Schools Partner with the Community College of Philadelphia to Aid High School Dropouts

Written by Patricia Hawke for Schools K-12

Dropout rates across the country have been on the rise over the past decade. In school year 2004-2005, an estimated 5,550 students dropped out of the Philadelphia schools. This is the highest dropout rate in the state, about three times higher than the state average.

To assist these Philadelphia schools dropouts and offer them an opportunity for a better life, the Philadelphia schools have partnered with the Community College of Philadelphia, the largest degree-granting institution in the city with over 38,000 students enrolled annually.

According to a report by the American Youth Policy Forum, 75 percent of the inmates housed at our state prisons are dropouts, and 59 percent of the federal prison population are dropouts. Though the Philadelphia schools already have programs in place to aid students currently in school, they knew that more had to be done to aid those who had already dropped out.

Part of the Gateway to College Program, the Philadelphia schools dropouts begin school in the fall of 2006. The program offers dropouts the chance to simultaneously work toward a diploma and associate’s college degree or certificate.

The college expects to enroll 360 Philadelphia schools dropouts over the next three years. The dropouts must be between the ages of 16 and 20, with at least an eighth grade reading level.  They can attend day, evening and weekend classes at the college, with their first semester in small learning groups of 20 students. Classes include the basics of reading, writing and math, as well as a college survival course to help them be successful in their future college courses and a two-hour academic lab each week.

Dedicated academic coordinators act as advisors, mentors and coaches for the Philadelphia schools dropouts. They also assist with student needs issues, such as course selection, time management, and study habits. After the first semester, the Philadelphia schools dropouts take classes with the college’s general student population.

The Gateway to College Program was developed by the Portland Community College and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and its partners — Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Ford Foundation, and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.  The plan is to replicate the program at 17 colleges nationwide by 2007.  Philadelphia is its largest urban center to participate to date.

The Community College of Philadelphia was granted $10.25 million over a seven-year period, of which $350,000 is slated for planning and startup for the first three years. Remaining monies and in-kind services will come from the college and the Philadelphia schools.

The new program expands options for vulnerable youth, who were left behind by the Philadelphia schools traditional system. These are youth who often have been written off as failures by teachers, administrators, and parents. This is their second chance.