M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust

Students all around the Pacific Northwest face academic, social and financial barriers to accessing college or other post-secondary education, and those facing the biggest barriers are economically disadvantaged students and students of color. Some of these barriers are a lack of financial resources to pay high tuition prices, students being the first in their family to attend college and a lack of information about educational opportunities after high school.

With higher education becoming an increasingly important asset in a constantly shifting economy, post-secondary education can no longer be treated as a luxury. When youth of all backgrounds are given opportunities and access to education, our communities become stronger, not only today, but for future generations.

Ensuring that young people are on track for college begins long before they close in on their high school graduation. It requires investment by a collection of partners, including teachers, mentors, family and community members. Several nonprofits have stepped in to help fill these gaps so that every child in the Pacific Northwest has a bright future of opportunity. Today we’ve gathered a small sample of these groups to help illustrate how community investment in youth can pay substantial dividends for us all down the road.

Greater Than (formerly I Have a Dream – Oregon)

Greater Than focuses on poverty-impacted communities, where students face a multitude of barriers in completing their K-12 education and succeeding at the post-secondary level. GT provides students with long-term relationships with caring adults, the message that their college and career aspirations are attainable and intensive academic and social supports. Third-grade classes in poverty-impacted schools in Portland, Oregon, are designated as Dreamer Classes, and GT follows these students through high school graduation and post-secondary education. The result is up to 91 percent earning a diploma or GED (compared to 64 of their poverty-impacted peers) and 60 percent enrolling in post-secondary education (versus 32 percent).

College Possible

College Possible’s research-based program gives poverty-impacted students the tools they need to access college and be successful once they get there. AmeriCorps members who have recently graduated from college serve as coaches to students, providing support from their junior year of high school through college graduation. CP recently expanded its programs across Oregon to serve rural students, using a combination of in-person and tech-connected mentoring to ensure that students in remote settings are afforded the same college opportunities as their urban and suburban peers. The one-on-one mentoring and coaching that CP provides dramatically improves student success in attending and completing their post-secondary education.

Elevate Oregon

Oregon has one of the worst high school dropout rates in the country, ranking 48 out of 50 states. To help address this problem, Elevate Oregon was formed, targeting the school district with the third worst dropout rate in the state, where only 54 percent of students graduate each year. Elevate maintains a consistent presence in school classrooms, teaching high school students an accredited curriculum five days a week. These high school students in turn become mentors to elementary students in Elevate classrooms, helping the next generation recognize that college isn’t just a dream, but something they can achieve.

Degrees of Change

Tacoma, Washington-based Degrees of Change takes a unique approach to preparing students for college. It partners with nonprofit organizations to train students during their senior year of high school, then send them to college with full scholarships, where Degrees continues to support them as they lead on campus and earn their degrees. This community-oriented model brings a higher success rate for typically underrepresented students, particularly those from low-income backgrounds, students of color and first-generation college students, who make up the bulk of Degree cohorts. The vision is to create a community of diverse, educated and connected leaders and to equip colleges to prepare students for an increasingly diverse and globalizing world.

College Access Now

“We believe in you” is the message Seattle-area students hear from their AmeriCorps College Coaches in College Access Now’s programs. Beginning in the 11th grade, CAN supports students through high school graduation to post-secondary degree completion. One hundred percent of students in CAN’s programs are from low-income backgrounds, and many have never thought college was an option, whether because of financial barriers or because they haven’t seen anyone they know go through the process of applying to and attending college. CAN knows that getting into college is just the first step. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 60 percent of the wealthiest students graduate from college, while only 16 percent of low-income students complete their studies, so CAN provides coaching and mentoring opportunities to students throughout their college years to help them achieve graduation.

“A college degree represents more than my individual efforts. My family, friends and community have all contributed to my success in various ways. My degree empowers me to serve others to the best of my ability, especially people with less privilege than myself.”

These powerful words from Eric Soria-Patrick, a graduate of College Access Now’s program, perfectly capture the importance of college access programs like these and others across the Pacific Northwest. Individuals, families, nonprofits and all of the other members of our communities play an important role in the success of students. The Murdock Trust believes that college and other post-secondary education should be available and accessible to all students, because when our youth and young adults are given the opportunity to thrive, they go back into their communities as leaders and agents of change. They become the positive change our communities need.

To learn more about these and other college access programs supported by the Murdock Trust, read on our blog about Greater Than’s Dreamer School and browse through the Grants Awarded page on our website.

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