It’s Time to Reimagine the Road to Graduation

Meet Mel. Mel is a junior in high school in Minnesota’s Twin Cities. Her older sister started at a two-year college to avoid taking on excessive debt, and now Mel is wondering if she should follow the same path especially now that COVID-19 has created even more financial pressure on her family:

“I was planning to go to a four-year school but now I’m reconsidering,” says Mel. “If I have to learn online at a four-year school it’s going to be additional stress. And a two-year school will be financially better, too.”

One challenge Mel has faced in the wake of COVID-19 is the switch to online coursework. Sometimes she doesn’t realize when her assignments are due, and it’s hard to keep on top of everything. “COVID-19 is like a reset,” says Mel. “I need to find new ways of studying. It’s like an uphill battle but there is nothing I can do.”

Mel is also grappling with the unrest in her community following George Floyd’s death. Tensions and violence have intensified, and many students fear for their physical safety. “I was interested in criminology before, but the death of George Floyd reinforced that. My mom worries about the police and the justice system. But to start the change you have to be involved and be educated.”

As Mel tries to balance the competing demands of school, work, family, and life, she must also figure out her path to college. The biggest question on her mind is: “How can I find a college that is affordable and will set me up for my long-term goals to serve my community?”

Millions of students across the country are just like Mel: grappling with the unique responsibilities and challenges of their daily lives while trying to make choices around attending college — often with limited support. This is especially true for low-income students, first-generation students, rural students, and students of color who face some of the greatest hurdles in navigating the postsecondary path.

In Reimagining the Road to Graduation: The Need for Extraordinary Systems to Get Students to and Through College, the Bellwether Education team spoke with dozens of young people and the adults in their lives to understand how students are making decisions to stay on a postsecondary pathway amid a global pandemic. Along with Mel, this new resource tells the stories of Anna, Xavier, Frankie, and Alejandro — and offers more than 30 recommendations for K-12 systems, colleges and universities, support organizations, and funders to work together to create a system where getting to and through college isn’t an extraordinary trek that young people have to make alone. 

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