Montgomery College cancels county high school dropout program -- Gazette.Net


This story was corrected Dec. 14, 2012. An explanation follows.

If Rebecca Wood had not been given help five years ago, she says she would have probably dropped out of Albert Einstein High School.

It is because of Gateway to College, a high-school-to-college intervention program, that Wood said she has a diploma and is now at a competitive, out-of-state college working on her bachelor’s degree.

But what worked for Wood has not worked for all students.

Gateway to College will no longer be offered at Montgomery College after December 2015, and no more students will be enrolled next school year, said Don Pearl, the college’s senior vice president of academic affairs.

Since 2004, Gateway to College gave Montgomery County Public Schools students, ages 16-21, who had dropped out or were at risk of dropping out, a scholarship to continue their education. Students accepted into the program were able to complete high school courses and earn a diploma on a more flexible schedule, while also taking college courses.

The 134 students currently in the program will continue to receive support as promised to them, Pearl said.

The decision to cancel the program was a difficult one, Pearl said, as the program helped many students obtain their high school diploma, and many more refocus their future. But the program was not as successful as other intervention programs and was costly for the college, he said.

Out of nearly 1,000 students who entered the program since 2004, 120 students received a high school diploma, Pearl said.

“You look at the number of students who started and completed, and you have to start asking questions,” Pearl said.

Gateway to College began in Montgomery College, and other colleges nationwide, through a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Scholarship Foundation; about 33 colleges in 20 states have the program currently.

After the original grant expired, Montgomery College absorbed the program costs, Pearl said. In fiscal 2012, about $1.4 million went to the program.

That money will now be reallocated to other areas of the budget, and eight positions will be cut, Pearl said. Two full-time faculty members will continue to teach. For the others, the college is attempting to find them other positions.

When the program did work, it was because it gave troubled students flexibility — some students were in legal trouble, had to work to provide for their family, and had medical issues, said Genevieve L. Floyd, supervisor of career and postsecondary partnerships at Montgomery County Public Schools.

The program was more effective than the numbers show, Floyd said, as it got many students back on track with their lives, allowing them to obtain certifications or find success in jobs.

“We would love to have more high school diplomas, but I think for all of the students who went through and experienced the program, there may have been some other intangible benefits that they received.”

The program pulled students out of their social environment in high school, and treated them as adults, Pearl said.

“[In high school] there are a lot of social interactions that get in the way of academics,” Pearl said. “In a college environment, being a teenager just doesn’t happen.”

Wood, who now lives in Tallahassee, Fla., and is attending Florida State University, obtained her high school diploma last winter and her associate’s degree from Montgomery College in May.

When she heard the program was being canceled, she said she and about 20 others wrote letters to the college’s president DeRionne Pollard and schools Superintendent Joshua P. Starr, asking them to change their minds.

But she said she understands that the program did not work for everyone; in her cohort of about 20 students, only she and another student ended up obtaining their associate’s degree.

Many students who enrolled in the program just did it to get the monetary support, and were not fully committed to their education, she said.

Some had trouble leaving their social circles, she said.

“A lot [of students] still have friends that do drugs, smoke and drink,” Wood said. “Those friends — or supposed friends — are going to be the ones that tell them, ‘Why are you in this program?’”

To try to retain the students, the college offered greater counseling supports, Pearl said. He said he doesn’t know why the program worked for some students and not for others. Wood was one of the “shining stars” of the program, he said.

“I think for some students, you have to realize that it is not just academics — there are a lot of things going on in their life,” he said.

Pearl said that there is no other program like Gateway to College at Montgomery College, but the campus is known for its GED program.

Floyd said she thinks a new partnership between the college and the county’s high schools called Achieving Collegiate Excellence and Success, or ACES, will be able to identify at-risk students and take a proactive approach to preventing students from dropping out.

Wood said she thinks if Gateway to College would have had more mentoring or on-campus activities it may have retained more students, but she said nothing can help if the student is not committed.

“They have to be ready, and find it inside themselves,” she said.

Editor’s note: The story originally misstated that the college was looking for positions for all eight faculty members who worked on the program.