ESPANOLA — During the Department of Education Office of Migrant Education Annual Director’s Meeting in Washington, D.C. in July, Northern New Mexico College’s JumpStart Program (GED®-to-college) creators, Tobe Bott-Lyons, Student Success coordinator and Shari Jobe, High School Equivalency Program (HEP) director, were asked to present at the High School Equivalency Program (HEP)/College Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP) National Conference in Sacramento in October.
More than 263 educators were in attendance at the conference with standing room only for the JumpStart Program workshop.
“As HEP at Northern is one of the top performing programs in the nation with 97 percent GED® attainment and 98 percent of those transitioning to college, upgraded employment, or military enlistment for 2015-2016, the Department of Education and the HEP/CAMP Association wanted us to share our best practices”, Jobe said. “As a native of the Valley, I am so happy that we received this five-year $2.5 million HEP grant to serve the students of the community that I love.”
In Fall 2015, Bott-Lyons and Jobe teamed up to pilot the JumpStart Program. HEP at Northern JumpStart is a uniquely innovative and collaborative program that aims to increase the number of HEP/GED® students who enroll and are successful in college by offering free, early college transition services and college experiences to students while they are still enrolled in HEP or after completing their High School Equivalency Certificate (HSE).
“By creating a culture of college belonging, establishing early relationships of care and trust, creating seamless educational and social engagement, and providing culturally and socially relevant learning experiences, students have been very successful,” Bott-Lyons said.
The core of the program is an extended First-Year Experience college course beginning in HSE courses and continuing through the first semester of college, which allows students to earn three credits upon completion of their first semester.
In the first two semesters of the pilot program, JumpStart has helped over 40 high school equivalency (formerly GED®) graduates go on to college, with a first semester success rate of over 80 percent.
“Being in Jumpstart was a huge help for me. Going into college was scary, but being in this class made me less scared and more confident in my semester,” said Melissa M. Montano, a second semester first-year student with a 3.94 GPA. “If it wasn’t for Jumpstart and my wonderful instructor, I wouldn’t be where I am today,”
Adult Education (AE) and High School Equivalency (HSE) graduates represent a large and growing number of incoming students on many college campuses. High School Equivalency (formerly GED®) students have historically struggled to be successful at the college level, and many colleges are unprepared to provide relevant, effective academic programs and support services that meet the unique developmental needs of this population.
“Due to these mismatches, many colleges are missing out on a powerful recruitment and retention opportunity by not engaging with the AE/HSE students they have on their campuses and in their communities,” Bott-Lyons said.
The problem of connecting GED® graduates to college is not unique to New Mexico; it is an underappreciated national problem. 2009 Census data showed that 645,281 students in the United States had received High School Equivalency Credentials but less than 5 percent of these students had completed a bachelor’s degree.
Most college readiness initiatives have historically ignored this population. Most federal grant programs that target college outreach, awareness and readiness (such as Upward Bound and Gear Up) serve only traditional public school students.
“Northern New Mexico College (NNMC) has recognized that this gap represented an opportunity to expand college access and opportunity to residents of the Valley,” Bott-Lyons said.