“We have smart children in Newark. We just need a few more resources and the belief that we can all succeed.” 

With those words, Kim Boerrigter, 2017 graduate of Malcom X. Shabazz High School, Harvard University Class of 2021, summed up both Newark’s potential and the challenges the city must overcome so that her success becomes the rule, not the exception.

Recent progress provides hope. In just a few years, the Newark Public Schools’ high school graduation rate rose to 73% from 53%. And more graduates are being accepted to college: 75% of the class of 2017 gained admission to a two- or four-year institution, including Kim and six of her classmates who entered Ivy League institutions this fall.

Still, more work is needed for Newark to approach New Jersey’s statewide graduation rate of 90%. This is the mission of the Newark City of Learning Collaborative (NCLC), which works with the school system, businesses, community organizations, and other partners to build the citywide college-going culture that is crucial to more students enjoying success.

A college-going culture means an environment where every child, regardless of neighborhood, zip code, or high school, is expected to come to school, do well in school, and adequately prepare to succeed at the college level.

The Newark Public Schools and NCLC work together in a range of activities aimed at reaching this goal:

  • College Talk– daily conversations in schools to help students  understand what’s required to stay on track to graduate and on a path that leads to college
  • Expectations– all students are expected to achieve at a high level, with explicit goals for preparation clearly laid out for students and parents
  • Key Resources– up-to-date information about colleges and other post-high school options, like high-quality certification programs, are easily available to all students

A newly created NCLC/NPS position, the Higher Education Liaison, is solely focused on providing students, parents, guidance counselors, teachers, and administrators information and resources related to college that many promising students never obtained before. The partnership with NPS has led to the sponsorship of an annual district-wide college fair, where students and families meet representatives from colleges from around the country. The fair also helps raise awareness and encourage aspirations toward college. The second annual fair, which took place last month, enabled hundreds of students from around the city, including district, charter, county vocational, and parochial, to explore their options beyond high school.

The College Fair is just one way NCLC and NPS provide students and families information needed to make informed decisions about applying to college, financial assistance, and securing a degree or high-quality credential. This past summer, Rutgers University-Newark and eight other colleges joined NCLC in hosting a series of college knowledge workshops around the city, “Secrets to College Admissions,” designed to demystify what can appear as a challenging admissions and financial aid process, particularly the completion of the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). Newark’s FAFSA completion rate of 47% underscores the difficulties faced by many families in taking advantage of this resource.

Early college planning is essential for overcoming barriers to college enrollment and completion. Research confirms that having college plans by 10th grade increases the likelihood of attending college by 21%, compared to plans developed during the senior year. Recognizing this, NCLC’s College Pathway Initiative engages students early, while supporting their academic and social-emotional needs. Two-hundred 10th graders, along with young people who have dropped out of school and want to reengage, participate in the initiative.

As promising as these efforts are, establishing a college-going culture in Newark will not happen overnight. Building on progress to date will require the involvement of everyone in the community.  With more of our students graduating from high school and ultimately securing a degree or credential, more Newark residents will be able to get good jobs, support their families, and build a future in a thriving city.