Building a P-16 education pipeline in Central Texas

This blog is the first in a series about how organizations across Central Texas are working to help improve graduation rates for low-income students. Among all Texas metros, Austin’s low-income students have the lowest post-secondary outcomes – only 8 percent of low-income students obtain a college degree. We know that a higher education degree is a pathway out of poverty, so our partners in Austin are creating new models to address the complex combination of challenges that students face on their journey to a degree. This blog series will feature student stories and share the new models our partners are using to create pathways to success for students. Read the whole series here. 

Let me start with a few stats about Central Texas that you might know.

  1. Among all Texas metros, Austin has the lowest post-secondary outcomes for students who are low-income – the region’s fastest-growing student demographic – with just 3 percent obtaining a college degree. The Austin Chamber of Commerce found that 84 percent of the unemployed residents in Travis County never obtained a college degree. According to the Commissioner of the Texas Education Agency (TEA), while 88 percent of Texas’ class of 2014 graduated from high school in four years, only 17 percent attained a college-ready score on their SAT/ACT.
  2. Even more alarming, the achievement gap is worse today than it was 20 years ago. According to the 2016 Community Advancement Network (CAN) Dashboard, less than one-fourth of African-American and Hispanic adults over the age of 25 in Travis County have a bachelor’s degree.
  3. Yet we know that a higher education degree is a pathway out of poverty. The Bureau of Labor Statistics notes degree holders earn on average 65 percent more annually than high school graduates and are far less likely to be unemployed. For many low-income students, the opportunity to build the skills needed to go to college and obtain a degree will shape the trajectory of the rest of their lives .

What can be done about the 7.3 percent?

I tell you these things not to be a downer, but rather to paint a picture of Austin that you might not have heard about. Austin is a city that is known as growing, burgeoning, healthy and robust. In reality, it’s not that simple. While students living in one zip code attend some of the highest quality schools in the country, others right over the town line have very few educational options.

We know that people do better in life when they’ve graduated from college, so we have to do something about the dismal graduation rates among low-income students, the fastest-growing student demographic in Central Texas. It not only threatens the prosperity of Central Texas as a whole, it’s also simply unfair to the children born on the wrong side of the town line.

So, we’re digging into the data now with some great partners to figure out what’s happening to our students.  Are they struggling to finish their higher education because they have the added pressure of working to help support a family? Or is getting to and from class nearly impossible without reliable transportation?  Or are challenges with mental or physical health keeping them from meeting their goals?  What we’re finding is that it’s likely a combination of some or all these factors that stand in the way of our students. While we’re learning more about the unique set of challenges that low-income students face, we are committed to supporting education models that strive to better student outcomes by addressing what their students need to succeed in post-secondary education. These models innovate academics to better improve college-readiness, invest in the wellbeing and character of their students, and ensure struggling students are given opportunities to succeed with the appropriate support they deserve.

If you don’t know these four education models in our region, you should!

Now onto the better news: there are organizations and people in our city tackling these problems every day. They are looking at the problems through a new lens, or approaching the issues in a new way, or creating a new pathway for students. They are trailblazers when it comes to education for low-income students in Austin. Meet our new partners:

  • Austin Achieve Public Schools (AAPS): We know that often struggling students lack social and emotional skills that they need to achieve success in academics, and AAPS knows this, too. With the success of its restorative practices program at the middle and high school levels, AAPS has decided to expand its new elementary school scheduled to open in August 2018.
  • Bastrop Independent School District: The team in Bastrop knows collaboration between education partners is a key component to the success of their students. Recently, they have partnered with E3 Alliance and Austin Community College to offer a trifecta of supports and opportunities to position students for success: 1) implementation of an already successful high school program, RAISEup Texas, in the middle schools; 2) deployment of Math Pathways, and a college prep math course; and 3) Bastrop’s early college high school, the Colorado River Collegiate Academy (CRCA).
  • IDEA Public Schools (IDEA): From the first day students set foot on an IDEA Public Schools campus, they are instilled with the expectation that they will go to college. This expectation is woven in the fabric of everything the staff at IDEA say and do. They are committed to academic excellence and building strong character for today’s world, all while taking a holistic approach to support each child on a path to college and beyond.
  • PelotonU: PelotonU is one of the few programs nationwide blending in-person support with competency-based education from a nonprofit online institution. They are also the only program prioritizing working adults, many of whom haven’t been successful in traditional college programs. PelotonU has partnered with College for America, a renowned competency-based division of Southern New Hampshire University, to offer a supportive and flexible alternative pathway to obtaining associates and bachelors’ degrees. The path ahead to improve outcomes for students in the region isn’t without its challenges, but we are inspired by this varied and results-oriented group of educators beating the odds for our students. In this blog series, you will hear from educators and students alike, as they tell their stories of changing their trajectory for success.  I know you’ll be as inspired as I am, so stay tuned!