This post was originally published on Defender Network

By Laura Onyeneho

Since 2019, undergraduate enrollment at Texas colleges and universities has declined by 4.1%. This information is anything but new, considering college enrollment nationwide has been on the decline for nearly a decade. 

Black and brown students are impacted the most. Black youth have fewer access to financial resources, are more likely to be suspended in secondary school, lack role models in education, and others challenges. 

OneGoal Houston, a college access and success organization for students from low-income communities, is providing a solution to address these challenges, starting with the educators. 

One Goal Houston Executive Director Patty Williams-Downs, Raven Brookes, Managing Director of Programs, and Lamonde Howard, second-year Program Director, prepared for a full professional development conference of more than 30 educators who train to help junior and seniors in their district prepare for post-secondary pathways at East Early High School. 

The Defender sat with the three education advocates to talk about ways they are helping teachers fight the college enrollment crisis.

Defender: What is this conference about?

Williams-Downs: OneGoal has one mission: to close the degree divide. That is where Black and brown kids have significantly fewer chances of achieving their post-secondary aspirations and social mobility than their white and more affluent counterparts. We know that benefactors of a post-secondary degree minimally earn about a million more dollars in your lifetime. In Houston, 20% of low-income students earn their degrees compared to 65% of their affluent peers. Houston cannot become the economic epicenter if we don’t have educated people beyond a high school diploma. We are cultivating our teachers here. You have access to our resources if you are in a OneGoal class.

Howard: We have children that believe based on the fact that sometimes they can’t eat, or they don’t know where their next meal is coming, or they come from full-time working families. They’re just thinking they need to finish this one component called the school and keep moving up the ladder of minimum wage jobs. They don’t see a future of anything more than what is a reality to them. OneGoal brings people who will consistently advocate for them to change the trajectory and break the cycle of poverty.

Defender: How do you connect with schools for this program?

Williams-Downes: We partner with school districts and campuses that primarily have 90% of students with free or reduced lunch. Our job is to get in and provide access. Access for us looks like partnering with several teachers within a campus or district to provide the One Goal class, which is like a college planning and prep course. It is structured to be just like any other class in the curriculum. We are a secondary and post-secondary program. A three-year program that supports you in entering college. 

Defender: How do you get teachers on board? What was the experience like?

Brookes: First, we enter partnerships with districts, and then within those districts, we work to identify which schools we are in partnership with. We talk to school leaders to see which teacher could be interested in this work, and that is essentially how teachers become Program Directors or “OneGoal teachers.” We want to make sure we are prioritizing our teachers as humans. They are our biggest asset to ensuring students get everything they deserve. We are giving them a launch into the content they will share with students. In our structure, we have individuals called Directors of Campus support. Those individuals have cohorts of teachers they support across districts to ensure our teachers are doing okay. 

Howard: I’m a parent, but this is my second year as a program director. When I first started, I knew what the outcomes were of this program, and it was enough for my kids. I’m a mother of three. Two of my children benefitted from this program. My middle child is at the University of North Texas and is in her last year of school. She is already a microbiologist and got a job through an internship before she finishes her bachelor’s degree in May. My second one didn’t do well in school, and the pandemic worsened things. He was the only one out of all my kids that didn’t get an associate’s degree. So, we found him a certification program in cyber security with Loyola University in New Orleans. OneGoal called to tell him they would give him $750 to spend on his tuition or school supplies. He was so excited. He will finish his program this month, and recruiters have already called him for jobs. If not for OneGoal, that may not have happened. OneGoal helped ensure that even my son, who is not the achiever of the three, got something out of the program to make his situation a bit easier. 

Defender: What’s the impact so far?

Williams-Downes: We have this professional development training every quarter. We serve about 2,500 students across school districts Houston ISD, Spring Branch ISD, Spring ISD, and Aldine. We are only ten years old and have served nearly 7,000 kids throughout our lifespan. We plan to grow deeper and touch more roots across the city of Houston. People interested in investing in this program must know that our cost per student is about $1,000 per year. We are a three-year model. That means you would directly support a student’s ability to disrupt the cycle and achieve social mobility. Justice requires money, and this thing didn’t happen overnight.

Howard: Right now, we have to talk to our administrators to get children back in class. As juniors become seniors, they look at what deficiencies they have to make graduation requirements, and sometimes OneGoal is not a priority. So, we have to battle to get out cohort back together again. OneGoal courses are just as important as the health or physical education requirements. This is an investment.

BOX:

Only 22% of students from low-income communities earn a post-secondary degree (bachelor’s and/or associate), compared to 67% of their peers from high-income areas.

BOX

Students On Track to Earning a Degree:

84%

of OneGoal high school graduates enroll in a post-secondary institution

75%

of those persist one year after high school graduation