Program Focuses on ‘Average’ Students

By Alina Tugend — January 22, 1986 3 min read

A New York foundation is launching a $1-million program that will bring college and businesses together to help guide the “average” disadvantaged high-school student--who does well academically but lacks the necessary social and professional skills-toward productive career paths.

“We see a lot of programs for top achievers, and a lot designed to help kids who are doing the worst, such as dropouts,” said Thomas W. Moloney, senior vice-president for the Commonwealth fund. The foundation’s new “Career Beginnings” program, he said, is intended to help “a group in the middle, who have been industrious or tenacious, but lack a vision that they can go to college or find that very important first job.”

Middle-class or affluent parents can assist their children by giving them “a vision and belief’ in themselves, helping them find job opportunities, and offering guidance on college choices, Mr. Moloney said. The Commonwealth fund program will seek to fill that role for students whose parents have little education and lack business connections.

In a program designed to be easily replicated, participating colleges, working with local businesses, will provide up to 100 high-school juniors each year with mentors in the work world, a pool of potential summer jobs, and weekly summer seminars on attaining job skills, learning job “etiquette,” and navigating the college-application process.

Job and Mentors

Students will also receive support and guidance throughout their senior year as they apply for jobs or colleges.

In April, the foundation will award two-year grants of $100,000 to as many as 10 colleges or universities located in cities with populations of more than 100,000. Each grant recipient must raise matching funds from local private or public sources.

An additional $455,000 will go to the Center for Human Resources at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., to manage the program and train directors for the sites.

New Programs Implemented

“Career Beginnings” is an outgrowth of a project started three years ago at Hunter College in New York City. That program, called “Career Exploration,” is aimed at students who perform at about a B level, with good attendance records and no discipline problems, Mr. Moloney said.

Similar programs also have been implemented by the University of Missouri in Kansas City and by Marygrove College in Detroit, he added.

Trained staff members at the colleges and universities will administer the programs, Mr. Moloney said. They will select participating high schools in each metropolitan area and recruit mentors from cooperating business or professional group’ to work one-on-one with students as role models and “door openers” to summer and part-time jobs.

The colleges will also work with businesses to develop a pool of “meaningful” summer jobs.

Hunter College guarantees admission to each student who successfully completes the program, and other colleges and universities may choose to do the same, Mr. Moloney said.

Hunter Program

About 20 percent of the 600 students who have completed the Hunter program have enrolled in the college, according to Donna Shalala, the school’s president.

At least 90 percent of the students complete the Hunter program and about 90 percent of the employers are happy with it, according to short-term follow-up studies. Mr. Moloney said a long-term follow-up will try to determine whether the program leads students to better career opportunities.

Ms. Shalala said the key to its success is “the quality of the leadership in the individual colleges and the real involvement of the school itself in identifying students to participate.”

While the high school submits a list of student candidates for the program, the college makes the final choice. “We didn’t want to skim the best students off the top,” Ms. Shalala said. “We wanted to get the kids no one else would pay attention to.”

Easily Replicated

The program is “simple and straightforward, and doesn’t require a lot of sophistication,” said the Hunter president. “We wanted a program that could be replicated.”

Evelyn Jones-Rich, an assistant dean at Hunter and a former high-school principal, said the program has the added benefit of improving students’ academic performance.

“On the job, they appreciated the need to be able to read well and to speak well,” said Ms. Jones-Rich, who has worked with the program since its inception. “Many of these kids live in environments where nobody worked regularly. A very effective byproduct of the program was that kids began to think about being gainfully employed.”

A version of this article appeared in the January 22, 1986 edition of Education Week as Program Focuses on ‘Average’ Students