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Innovative Educational Program Puts High School Students on the Right Track for College

As first-generation college applicants begin the road to higher education, they encounter many barriers to completing college.

"Our greatest areas of need moving forward are to ensure students are getting quality summer engagement and are able to cover financial gaps once in college," said Mike Woodward, Site Director of College Track New Orleans (CTNO).

CTNO helps to guide high school students from underserved communities to college graduation by providing academic support, leadership training, financial and college advising, and scholarships.

"For me personally, I attended a summer enrichment program at Stanford University between my junior and senior years of high school; that experience marked a turning point in my educational trajectory. For the first time in my life, I felt as though I belonged in college. There is simply no substitute for setting foot on a college campus."

College Track, with its aim toward addressing some of those challenges students face and helping them achieve success, seems to echo what Woodward said. There are statistics that help back the program's emphasis.

Earning a college degree translates into a brighter future for youths and more financial security. An analysis of Labor Department statistics by the Economic Policy Institute in Washington in 2014 revealed that Americans with four-year college degrees made 98 percent more an hour on average in 2013 than people without a degree. That's up from 89 percent from five years earlier and up 85 percent from a decade ago.

College Track, which relies on financial support from community members, foundations, government, and corporations, has a total of eight locations – six in California along with one each in Aurora, Colo., and New Orleans.The New Orleans program opened in 2008.

"CTNO has both high school and college components that are fused into one continuous program," said Woodward. "The longitudinal support we provide is both necessary and invaluable."
The program works with students throughout Orleans Parish, some who may become the first in their family to graduate from college, and is one example of how enrichment programs can have an impact. College Track provides one-on-one and small group tutoring, and transportation for students.

"We work with all public schools in Orleans Parish and run an afterschool program that provides academic, social and emotional support and so much more from the time they enter high school until they graduate with their bachelor's degree," Woodward said. "It's an 8 to 10 year commitment to the students and their families."

Woodward said providing scholastic enrichment is important as well as giving the students easier access to college representatives, who are frequent visitors to the program. Once in college, students work with an advisor to keep them on track. In 2016, College Track New Orleans is in line to have its first students complete the program, as several first-generation college graduates will walk across various college stages in May.