Earlier this week, Achieving the Dream (ATD) convened Gateway to College leaders for a virtual event to build on two decades of success and to plan for the future of the network. Over two days, participants discussed navigating the pandemic and what new student needs emerged during that time. Leaders also looked at disaggregated data to understand Gateway’s impact on racial equity and explored how to expand the work to reach more students and further advance student success in our communities.
Dr. Karen A. Stout, president and CEO of Achieving the Dream, announced that even in the midst of a global pandemic and challenging distance learning environment, Gateway to College programs collectively surpassed 10,000 cumulative graduates.
“Despite the tremendous challenges of the past year, Gateway to College programs have gone to extraordinary lengths to sustain the strong sense of belonging that allows your students to thrive,” she said. “This is an important milestone for our network and I trust it will be a momentum point that we will build upon. Although we are all eager to put this pandemic behind us, it is crucial that our next move is forward — not back. To that end, we want to know not just how you overcame the challenges of the past year, but also what strategies from this unusual period you plan to keep.”
An outreach and enrollment panel focused on several Gateway to College program leaders have learned to help alleviate declining enrollments over the past year.
Adam Kunz, a past Gateway to College program manager for the St. Paul Public Schools, said the systems and relationships already established well before the pandemic contributed to their success.
“What became most important is that we were on academic life support — and that was keeping the enrollment going, keeping the student engaged in whatever engagement level that meant, so that we would see an end to this and have them in a place to continue,” Kunz said.
Strong community partnerships were essential, like dropout prevention officers who not only would act as connectors linking students who were good fits for Gateway to College, but who would also go above and beyond to make sure students were supported along the process, according to Scott Oliver, assistant program director at Camden County College.
“We realized that they were a perfect representation of what the district and Gateway believes in: You leave no potential success story behind. You try to basically look to every potential applicant and see who we can support.”
Additional sessions focused on tools and data that Gateway programs can use to set equity goals and strategies, how Gateway programs are critical to ensuring historically marginalized students succeed in programs, examples that expand the impact of Gateway to College programs and increase integration to the broader student access agenda, and finally, imagined the future of the network.
As ATD Network institutions rethink dual enrollment — and how colleges work with K–12 generally — the next phase of work is to support colleges to build a comprehensive, strategic portfolio of K–12 partnerships focused on achieving equitable outcomes, Dr. Stout said.
“Our thinking about these partnerships has Gateway as a cornerstone, prompting the question: ‘Who are the members of the community who are not currently accessing higher education, and what support do they need to feel welcome and successful?’” Dr. Stout said.