Meeting Students Where They Are

TalkingEDUSmall.jpgFor colleges and universities challenged to assist new students who are not college ready, former CEO of Microsoft and notorious college dropout, Bill Gates, has some thoughts. Published on his blog gatesnotes, in an article entitled Meeting Students Where They Are, Gates makes a strong case for those universities willing to “take on the students who haven’t had a great high school experience. The students who graduate with low GPAs and poor SAT scores.” Of course, as we know, many of these candidates are first generation college students who come from low-income and minority backgrounds. Gates believes that those schools who are willing to help these students who begin college challenged both academically and culturally, “are helping to redefine the future of higher education in the U.S.”

Gates believes the need to address these issues is as practical as it is altruistic. Citing current economic conditions in the US, which include a shortfall of more than 11 million skilled workers, the need to overcome the odds against low income and minority students getting their diplomas is critical. “In fact,” says Gates, “a student from a wealthy family in the U.S. is eight times more likely to earn a bachelor’s degree by age 24 than a student from a low-income family.”

To illustrate what some schools are doing to decrease dropout rates, Gates looks at two historically black universities, Johnson C. Smith University and Delaware State University who are testing new approaches to serving “at-risk” students. As Gates points out, “America’s historically black colleges and universities still play an outsized role in providing education to underprivileged students.” This harsh reality is illustrated by the fact that at both schools over 60 percent of students enrolling come from low-income homes or are the first in their families to attend college.

What are the solutions? Intensive first year programs, expanded guidance, mentoring and tutoring are just some of the approaches being taken. Gates shares the belief of administrators at both these schools, that identifying potential early on and monitoring and supporting at-risk students from the start, will make all the difference.

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