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For poor and first-generation college students, ‘I think I can’ is half the battle

Bridge Magazine 

By Chastity Pratt Dawsey

February 16, 2017

Growing up, Abdiel Ramos of Detroit was a honor roll student. Until he failed his first semester in college.

A graduate of Western International High, the University of Detroit Mercy student was under prepared for college math and had poor study habits. He spent too much time playing video games and too little time planning his future. And as the first in his family to go to college, he had no one at home to turn to for guidance on how to handle college life.

But his trajectory changed after he earned a 1.4 grade point average that first semester. The university placed him on academic probation and sent him for help. He was assigned to meet with an “intrusive” professional mentor employed by the university. The mentor met with Ramos regularly, worked with him on time management, assigned him study group appointments and just listened to him.

“My first semester, I didn’t understand the expectations,” Ramos, now 21 and a senior at U-D, told Bridge.

It has been long known that low-income college students, for reasons financial and otherwise, are less likely to graduate. In an effort to improve graduation rates among low-income and other at-risk students, colleges and universities across Michigan are implementing new coaching services to help these students navigate and complete college.

It’s not just about financing college or academics. They work with students, many of them first-generation college students, on everything from how to buy books to finding child care.

Ramos, who is majoring in computer information systems, said he got his cumulative grade point average up to a 3.0 by the end of junior year with the help of his mentors.

“I would not have traded in this experience for anything else, even though it was a roller coaster ride,” he said. “Luckily, I ended up meeting wonderful people.”

This year, as part of its annual “Academic State Champs” public school rankings, Bridge Magazine is honoring public high schools in the state based on the post-secondary success of their graduates. A school is ranked higher if its graduates earned a certificate, associate’s or bachelor’s degree within an average time frame, or if those graduates remained enrolled and progressing towards a post-secondary degree or certificate.

Within the data, one stark finding: The poverty level of a high school’s student population can be a disturbingly accurate predictor of whether those students are likely to graduate from college or obtain a post secondary certificate.

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