The Oregonian has reported that our state has the worst high school graduation rate in the nation (“Oregon Posts Nations Worst Graduation Rate for Class of 2013”). The article sheds light on an important issue that education programs have been championing for years: children in our state are not getting the support they need to succeed in school and be prepared for college and the workforce. The shortcomings of our education system not only rob Oregon’s youth of opportunities, but also cripple our local economy.
Education is key to breaking the cycle of poverty, and the costs of supporting individuals without sufficient education is significant. Low-income students are 6x more likely to drop out of high school than their wealthier peers, and the number of children living in poverty in Portland has increased by 35% in the past decade. At the same time, schools have fewer and fewer resources available to support struggling students. Students who do not finish school can’t compete in the workforce and are likely to be dependent on welfare programs. We have a lot to gain from investing in education programs: cutting the dropout rate in half for one year would result in $40 million in increased annual earnings and bring 350 jobs to the region. Increasing college attainment in Portland by just 1% would result in savings of $1.6 billion.
Elevate Oregon is a smart, bold solution to this issue because children who are mentored have significantly better educational outcomes. Our privately funded mentors bolster schools that just don’t have the tools to solve this problem on their own. Our model is specifically designed for the most vulnerable students, targeting key predictors of academic achievement, including trauma, attendance, grades, and instability at home. In just four years of operations, Elevate Oregon is already making a big impact. All students who participated in our program last year graduated, and 85% of those graduates are enrolled in college. We are poised to serve even more students in coming years.
The outcomes for students who participate in Elevate Oregon show that solutions are out there. With investment in the right programs, all students in Oregon can succeed in school.
Chart data source: Oregon Department of Education, 2013 Cohort Data