One way to help students get ready for the rigors of college is to give them opportunities to start college-level work and earn credits while still in high school. Another approach is to infuse a college-going culture into schools (starting as early as the elementary grades) so that students from all backgrounds can see postsecondary education as a goal worth pursuing and high school as a stepping stone to get there.
Oregon’s innovative Eastern Promise program is taking both those approaches to encouraging more students, particularly in rural communities, to aspire to attend college. The program is a collaboration among more than 40 Eastern Oregon high schools, three colleges, and several other education agencies. It’s been such a success that the Oregon Department of Education (ODE) is providing grants to five other consortia to replicate the program throughout the state.
In early January, roughly 70 educators from across Oregon—representing school districts, education service districts, community colleges, four-year universities, and state education agencies—came together in Keizer to share progress and lessons learned by the Eastern Promise replication grantees. All of the programs are working to align secondary and postsecondary systems to prepare students for success after high school. And, all are working toward the state’s ambitious “40-40-20” goal to increase the number of Oregonians earning college degrees and postsecondary certificates by the year 2025. Education Northwest is supporting the replication sites and the original Eastern Promise project with reporting requirements and analysis of program participation and outcomes.
“We live in a time of an education-based economy—an edu-conomy,” said Oregon’s Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction Rob Saxton in the meeting’s opening remarks, tying postsecondary education to greater earning potential. He added that college-going needs to become an explicit expectation for all students. “When I show up at school, no one really needs to explain it to me. I know I will have the opportunity to take college credit while I’m still in high school, and those credits will transfer wherever it is I want to go," he remarked.
In a keynote address, Nancy Golden, chief education officer of the Oregon Education Investment Board (OEIB), also spoke of the need for inspirational programs like Eastern Promise. “It was such a new concept, this intensive collaboration around having a system that’s really going to support all kids going to college,” she noted. As the program has been replicated, Golden observed that grantees are incorporating similar themes but adapting them to their own contexts. “That to me is the critical combination…. What works in one community doesn’t really work in another.”
"We can’t inspire dreams and not have the structures not to let the dreams comes true." —Nancy Golden
During an interview at the event, Hilda Rosselli, who directs college and career readiness initiatives at OEIB, said she views this work through an equity lens. “Students of color, students from poverty backgrounds, students for whom English is a second language, and students who are the first in their family to attend college are frequently not making that transition to postsecondary opportunities,” she said. “We are seeing evidence from the Eastern Promise project, though, that when you give students early access and supports and show them what rigor really looks and the benefits of a postsecondary education or certificate, they begin to acquire an ‘I-can-do’ attitude.”
One of the main themes of the day was the alignment between secondary schools and higher education to create a better educational experience for students. “When you have universities, community colleges, and secondary schools in the same room talking about alignment that leads to a common set of outcomes and efficiencies for students to earn college credits, that really helps everybody,” said Salam Noor, who directs academic policy and planning at the Higher Education Coordinating Commission. “It makes it clear to the students what they need to know and be able to do to demonstrate proficiency and earn college credits, and you get uniformity across institutions as to what that college credit actually represents.”
The convening on January 14 at the Keizer Community Center was cosponsored by OEIB, ODE, and the Higher Education Coordinating Commission in partnership with Education Northwest.