This article is sponsored by Penn State - Abington and Congreso de Latinos Unidos. It was reviewed before publication.
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At a time when the price of higher education is soaring and public education funding is tight, a regional partnership has spawned a new dual enrollment program in one of Philadelphia’s poorest neighborhoods.
Congreso de Latinos Unidos and Penn State Abington have joined forces to address the financial barriers and preparedness for higher education in the Fairhill and Kensington neighborhoods. High school juniors and seniors accepted into the program have the opportunity to graduate with 15 college credits under their belt and a Penn State certificate in rehabilitation and human services.
At the core of their effort, both institutions see a need to “fill in the gaps” left by the public education system and acclimate high school students to the rigor of a college education. Students take college courses with Penn State Abington faculty and, if eligible, participate in a summer college immersion program at the Abington campus.
“In our community, we have historically had close to a 50 percent high school dropout rate,” said Carlos Cartagena, director of post-secondary services at Congreso. “If you continue digging into the numbers, we also have a low college education rate and so on. So the thought was, how do we combat those statistics?”
Congreso, Cartagena explains, sees the program as an extension of their mission by opening doors for students who do not have a direct path to college or employment. This is a common issue and need in the community that Congreso serves, he said.
“We wanted it to be a program that gives them confidence,” Cartagena said, “It needs to show them that going to college is possible. And even if college isn’t in their immediate future, well then I can do it later on. I’m going to graduate high school with 15 college credits and with the certificate I’m employable. I have a chance.”
Currently, Congreso is hand-selecting students from Edison High School, Kensington Health Sciences Academy and Kensington High School for the Creative and Performing Arts. These students go through multiple interviews and are often recommended by teachers or Congreso staff.
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"The students are graduating high school ... but they’re also getting a full semester of college under their belt for free."
“It’s a big commitment,” said Dorothy Smith, manager of programmatic employment services at Congreso. “Time-wise, it takes devotion. It means twice a week after school on top of sports or work. For anyone that could be a lot, but for a high school student, showing that they want to go to extra school for two hours to four hours every week is really inspiring.
The program is jointly funded by Congreso and Penn State Abington through grants and foundations including The Ellis Trust for Girls and Children Can Shape The Future. There is no cost to the students to go through this program.
“[Penn State Abington] is providing the students with a discount tuition rate, and we as an organization have found funding sources to pick up the slack,” Smith said. “So the students are graduating high school, which itself is an accomplishment, but they’re also getting a full semester of college under their belt for free, which is saving them money and giving them the practical experience that they need to have a leg up to get ahead.”-30-
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