How to Build a College-Going Culture

 Photo by Kei-Sygh Thomas

Photo by Kei-Sygh Thomas

Building a college-going culture in Newark may not happen overnight, but the process is well underway, thanks to the efforts of the Newark City of Learning Collaborative (NCLC), which is conducting an ongoing series of roundtable discussions with Newark communities.

In July, Newark City of Learning Collaborative (NCLC) and Rutgers University-Newark School of Public Affairs and Administration released Post-Secondary Outcomes of Newark High School Graduates, an analysis that gives insight for the first time on college enrollment, persistence and completion for 13,500 high school graduates from 2011 until 2016. At a press conference last month, the NCLC announced its roundtable series to discuss outcomes and how to best leverage the results. The first was held on October 2 at East Side High School.

“The NCLC, City of Newark and Newark Board of Education are taking a monumental step in charting a new course for our beloved city,” said Superintendent Roger León during the press announcement. “I am a proponent of engaging the community on all issues pertaining to them – that is why this exercise is integral to the success of our students and city. We will significantly shift the trajectory upward and provide a roadmap that will profoundly impact Newark and change it forever.”

The Newark City of Learning Collaborative (NCLC) launched in January 2015 to increase the percentage of Newark residents with higher education credentials or degrees from 17 percent to 25 percent by 2025. While more students are enrolling in college, not enough students are persisting through to make it to graduation. According to the report, 54 percent of students in the sample enrolled in college by October the following year, a substantial improvement from 39 percent from a 2004-2011 grad cohort.

“The report doesn’t tell us why and it doesn’t tell us how. That’s what we're hoping to get out of tonight’s conversation,” said Kristi Donaldson, education research and policy postdoctoral associate at NCLC, who co-authored the report. “What do we do with this? What are some of the next steps?”

The NCLC invited school leaders, educators, parents, students, and policymakers from across the city to their roundtable series to discuss the findings and brainstorm solutions to get more students to and through college.

“We want to do something with this rich information which we’ve never had prior to now. We think it's important for all of Newark to understand what we found out,” said NCLC executive director, Reginald Lewis. “We want to figure out ways in which there can be a collective response to supporting our young people to getting in and persisting through our colleges.”

During the meeting, a speaker in the audience posed the question about how Newark can recreate a culture of going to college similar to the experience he had growing up in nearby Livingston, a suburban town a half hour away. He talked about being exposed to college campus often as early as middle school and taking the PSAT to measure college readiness and screen students for early scholarships. Efforts toward this are being made by superintendent Roger Leon when he announced last month that eighth and ninth graders are required to take the PSAT starting this October.

One way to change the culture around going to college is to adjust how students perceive and approach the college application process, suggested East Side High School student Gabriel Morgarca. “Upperclassmen can help lowerclassmen get excited about the process,” he said. “If we can get them to see that as a positive experience instead of a stressful, negative one, then I think we can help inspire this culture of success.”

The next discussion in the NCLC Roundtable Series is at Malcolm X Shabazz High School in the South Ward on October 25, 2018. All forums start at 6pm, end at 8pm, and serve dinner. The remaining roundtable dates and locations are:

  • Thursday, November 1, 2018 at Central High School in the Central Ward

  • Monday, November 5, 2018 at Barringer High School in the North Ward

Story submitted by Kei-Sygh Thomas, a freelance journalist based in Newark, NJ.

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