Gateway to College is creating pathways for marginalized students

For most people hoping to gain sustainable employment in a rapidly evolving workforce, a high school diploma is not merely important — it’s essential. But nationally, about 15 percent of high school students do not make it to graduation on time. ATD’s Gateway to College initiative is designed to for these students, serving youth who have struggled with or dropped out of high school. Gateway to College builds partnerships between K–12 school districts and colleges to help students finish high school while simultaneously earning credits toward a postsecondary credential.

Early college or dual enrollment programs are especially important for underserved youth, including racially minoritized students, students from low-income communities or with basic needs insecurities, and rural youth. ATD’s Gateway program takes innovative approaches to intentionally reach the most marginalized populations.

Pathways to success

A program that was initially developed at Portland Community College in Oregon, Gateway to College now serves 30 communities around the country, where we continually see results and success stories that serve as a powerful testament to the importance of building on-ramps and fostering connection with young people.

Throughout this pandemic, Gateway programs relied on strong personalized relationships with students to get them through a difficult year and in the next month, as those students cross virtual commencement stages to collect their high school diplomas, they do so with the confidence that they are already successful college students.

Gateway to College graduates earn, on average, 20 college credits by the time they complete their high school diplomas, and in some communities, it is many more. At Mount Wachusett Community College in central Massachusetts, one-third of this year’s Gateway to College graduates will earn their associate degrees the week prior to their high school diploma.

The Gateway program at Community College of Philadelphia will achieve a 95-percent graduation rate through its partnership with School District of Philadelphia. Graduates will earn their high school diplomas with college credits already under their belt and 38 percent of these graduates will receive the college’s Octavius Catto Scholarship, which will allow them to continue their postsecondary education for free.

At a time when student disengagement is increasing, Gateway to College programs are doing all they can to help students persist and it is paying off. For example, Polk State College in central Florida is expecting a 100% graduation rate for their Gateway students this spring.

Equity-centered supports

During a year of change and uncertainty, Gateway to College program staff have worked tirelessly to ensure that students have the resources and support they need to continue pursuing their education during a pandemic. Gateway provides not only instruction and holistic student supports, but during the past year has delivered food, counseling, computers, and WiFi hotspots to keep students connected, safe, and fully equipped to continue their education.

Like all initiatives at ATD, the work at Gateway to College is centered around equity, and around putting student voices in the center of the conversation. Last year ATD published Equity in Design for HSS: A Gateway to College for High School Students. The brief discusses the experiences of four students in depth while providing strategic recommendations for colleges and K–12 districts to increase support for disconnected youth. Learn more here, where you can also view a recorded webinar of Gateway staff in conversation with the four students featured in the brief.


Gateway to College expands ATD’s K–12/community college partnerships, dual enrollment programs, and innovations in customized delivery of holistic services for nontraditional student populations. Currently, the Gateway to College Initiative includes programs in 32 communities around the country.

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