Research shows that getting kids and their parents in a post-secondary mindset as early as possible -- creating not just hope but an expectation for college attainment -- makes a big difference in whether they get credentials.
Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak and his top economic development official, Mike Christenson, without a lot of fanfare, have been working this angle for years. Every year in the fall Mayor Rybak addresses every 9th grader in the city with a message and specific programmatic inducements that encourage them to compete for summer jobs and scholarships for college, or that put them on the post-secondary track.
Christenson, director of the Minneapolis Department of Community Planning & Economic Development, and a Growth & Justice Policy Fellow, summarizes the success of those efforts in a recent MinnPost Community Voice column, key parts of which we reprint here:
After graduating from Southwest High School, Alex worked in the Minneapolis mayor's office as a STEP-UP intern. This summer, he joined nearly 2,000 other STEP-UP interns and dozens of employers to celebrate their summer accomplishments. For many interns, it was their first work experience. Like so many of us, they described their summer jobs as their first big break...
....The summer job is one of three parts of the Minneapolis Promise offered through Achieve Minneapolis. Mayor Rybak visits assemblies of ninth-graders in each Minneapolis public high school every fall. There, he lays out a compelling alternative to street life. Every Minneapolis youth may compete for one of 2,000 summer jobs, must complete a college and career map called "My Life Plan," and can apply for thousands of scholarships through Minneapolis Community & Technical College, Augsburg College, the University of Minnesota, Admission Possible, the Children's Defense Fund, the McGuire and Wallin and Page Foundations and many more programs.
State and city leaders from all sectors worry about the overwhelming challenges of the achievement gap in Minnesota. Populations of color trail others in measures of educational success at a nation-leading rate. We're a proud state, and national leader in so many categories, but this is a leadership position we need to vacate. After eight years, the Minneapolis Promise offers hope. A combination of summer jobs, career and college plans, and scholarships adds up to more than the sum of its parts...[and]...if the Minneapolis Promise continues to grow, the achievement gap will shrink. Here are the facts:
• Over 82 percent of the STEP-UP and city summer interns are persons of color.
• More than 900 students have attended MCTC under the Power of You program, and the number of Minneapolis high-school graduates has more than doubled at MCTC in five years.
• The University of Minnesota has admitted 166 STEP-UP interns since 2006.
• ACT testing and college participation rates from the Minneapolis high schools continue to grow.
...Minnesota's future work-force challenge will be to inspire populations not likely to attend college to hear this promise. In Minneapolis, we have found that summer jobs join with college supports to boost college participation. Let's hope that miracle can go to work, first through a summer job, for all Minnesota youth like Alex. And let's hope that the business community, which has kept this promise in Minneapolis, will inspire others as well. One last thing: Alex Glaze is in the freshman class at Stanford this fall." (Bold italics added).
The punchline, about an impoverished Minneapolis child, benefiting from broad community support, smart taxpayer investments combined with private-sector partnerships, entering prestigious Stanford University, tells it all.