Why College Matters

The benefits of attending college are numerous: College graduates have higher lifetime earnings, better health, are more active in their communities, and are less likely to become unemployed or incarcerated. The positive effects of college spread beyond the individual to his or her family and community, even to the next generation. There are many students, however, who have the ability to succeed in college but lack the opportunity because:

  • Their parents didn’t go to college, nor do any of their friends
  • They have inaccurate information about the cost of college
  • They are unaware of the academic prerequisites for college.

Steppingstone’s strategy to address the issue of preparing and supporting students for college success stands apart because we begin our intensive intervention, including summer programming, in the middle grades. Research going back more than 100 years has underscored the importance of summer learning to children’s ongoing academic development.  A number of compelling studies suggest that students lose significant ground academically during the summer months, but that lost ground is far more pronounced in lower-income communities. A 2007 study called Summer Can Set Kids on the Right–or Wrong–Course, demonstrates that “more than half of the achievement gap between lower- and higher-income youth can be explained by unequal access to summer learning opportunities.  As a result, low-income youth are less likely to graduate from high school or enter college.”

A study published by The Bridgespan Group (Reclaiming the American Dream, October, 2006) points to several factors that influence the likelihood of a student attending college. Academic preparation is the most effective means, but not sufficient on its own; students also need to have the expectation that a college degree will be essential to his or her desired career; they must be aware of the academic requirements they must satisfy before applying to college; they need a peer cohort that is also college-bound; and they need access to reliable information about college affordability and support in the financial aid process.

The Steppingstone program model incorporates all the lessons that research offers: Scholars receive rigorous and ongoing academic support; structured, positive learning time with experienced teachers during the summer months and after school; they gain admission to schools where the vast majority of the student body—over 90%––go on to attend four-year colleges; and the program begins communicating to Scholars about college during the admissions process and continues through middle and high school. In addition, each Scholar has a Steppingstone Advisor who tracks his or her progress through middle and high school as well as college.