High percentages of young adults in the United States know that a college degree is a key factor in obtaining an interesting, financially rewarding job. But U.S. Census data for 2018 show that only 41.2 percent of all persons 30-34 have actually graduated from college. For some population groups, the numbers are even lower. The same census data show that only 30.4 percent of Blacks 30-34 have college degrees.
Some of us think that college graduation is simply a function of intelligence and determination, but it turns out that the evidence is somewhat more complicated. Kids with high-income parents have a high probability of college graduation, regardless of their scores on pre-college academic tests. Bright kids with low-income parents have a low probability of college graduation.
Getting kids through college turns out to be a big, complex problem in some population groups, especially those who come from low-income families, have immigrant parents from low-income parts of the world, and have grown up in groups who have faced historical difficulties in getting an education. Pearl Rotarians heard on Nov. 26 from a group of educators at Portland’s Madison High who feel they may have viable solutions to the problem of getting students through a college degree. The speakers, Amanda Alonso and Roberta Cooper are members of the Madison teaching staff.
Madison, with a disproportionately low-income population, is part of an innovative learning program called AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) that has been created by some of the best minds in educational research. The Madison program was the first in the Portland Public Schools (started in 2005-2006). With 125 students participating and virtually all the Madison teachers have some training in the techniques. The AVID program has now expanded to a number of Portland Schools, at various grade levels.
The AVID educators are heavily oriented in getting the participating students through college. They believe that this requires much more commitment, by both teachers and students, than simply taking a large number of “college prep” courses. Madison teachers attend various classes to learn the best techniques of teaching often-complicated material to their students. They emphasize note-taking abilities that lead students to recognize what is most important in the class material and the ways that it can be recorded. Student participation and collaboration in classroom activities is encouraged. Tutoring is available. Enrollment is organized so that many of the same students together attend multiple classes. Enrollment of students in “rigorous” classes is definitely encouraged. Out-of-class social activity among the students is frequent.
One of the most prized goals for students and teachers alike is taking the national Advanced Placement exams as high school careers come to an end. A good score on these exams ensures students of placement in advanced courses when they enter college. Historically, such tests have been taken primarily by students who have stellar records of high school achievement, but the AVID advocates argue that virtually all their students have a chance to succeed in advanced placement. In fact, many of the AVID students succeed in gaining advanced placement.
Nationally, AVID educators can point to some very impressive statistics that indicate their success. The same is true at Madison High. AVID senior data 2018-2019 indicate that 100 percent will graduate from high school, 95 percent are applying to 4-year universities, 95 percent will be accepted to 4-year universities, and 100 percent will be enrolled in post-high school education.
Roberta, who serves as coordinator of the Madison AVID program, indicated to Rotarians a clear measure of program success. Many of the graduates cannot afford college with their family resources so they have to apply for scholarship money. “Colleges seek these people out,” Roberta reported.