This is a season of celebration for our city. High school graduation rates are on the rise. More Tacoma students than ever are heading to college. And with the help of College Bound and other local university scholarships, a college education is not out of financial reach even for students from the poorest families.
But let’s not throw our mortarboards in the air quite yet. Despite all these wins, we continue to see a pervasive and long-standing gap in college graduation rates.
While more students than ever are making it onto campus who are the first in their family to attend college, and while many come from a low-income family or are from an underrepresented racial group, statistics say fewer than half of those will actually graduate — even among those who are well prepared academically for the rigors of college.
As Tacoma continues its vibrant renewal, what could be more important for our collective future than ensuring high school graduates succeed in postsecondary ed? With only half as many bachelor degrees here per capita as in King County, we need more students to succeed in college and bring those degrees back to their home community.
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The future health and prosperity of the greater Tacoma area hinge on addressing this pervasive college success gap.
The Northwest Leadership Foundation (NLF) is hoping to do just that through a new initiative that we call Ready to Rise Tacoma. It builds on our 12 years of success in running Act Six, a scholarship and leadership program helping students graduate from college and grow into the next generation of leaders for our city.
Funded by a grant from College Spark Washington, Ready to Rise Tacoma will help 500 Tacoma college-bound students over five years walk away from college with a degree, not just student debt.
We believe a key to strengthening graduation rates for diverse students is to maintain ties and supports to their home communities. Students in Ready to Rise will meet with community-based coaches and student mentors in their senior year and throughout their four years of college, receiving support from and giving it back to fellow Tacoma students.
Further, we hope to identify and inspire in students a vision that sees their college degree not solely as a means toward a better-paying job, but also as a way to use their education to make positive community change, be it in the for-profit, non-profit or public sector.
In close partnership with other local groups like Degrees of Change, College Success Foundation, Palmer Scholars, MDC and others, we have the opportunity to significantly move the needle on college success rates for Tacoma students.
As featured in a recent News Tribune editorial, part of our work is seeking pathways for college-going students to use their skills and knowledge at home. Through connecting students with internships, jobs and other opportunities, we hope our diverse and talented young people will receive their college degrees and find their way back to Tacoma.
Noah Baskett is senior program officer for the Northwest Leadership Foundation in Tacoma.