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Partner Spotlight

This 2U Community Partner Is Helping Break Down Barriers to College Completion for Underserved High School Students

Written by Bannon Puckett on Oct 5, 2021

Related content: Corporate Social Responsibility, Strategic Partnerships

College Track's annual "Launch to College" event

“I rise, I inspire, I rewrite history.”

For almost 25 years, College Track has helped thousands of learners from underserved populations embrace this empowering mantra for their future. Through comprehensive academic, financial, and social-emotional programs that systematically break down barriers to college completion, this mission-driven organization makes a 10-year commitment to every student within its ranks—forming relationships that begin as early as ninth grade all the way through college graduation and beyond.

Since 2018, College Track has been a community partner of 2U’s Lanham, Maryland-based headquarters. Our annual financial donation to the nonprofit supports its extensive programming designed to help students pursue “a life of opportunity, choice, and power." A steady pipeline of 2U volunteers also tutor and mentor high schoolers through College Track’s Durant Center in Prince George’s (PG) County, Maryland. Jane Harris, Ed.D, founding site director for the Durant Center—which takes its name from NBA star, philanthropist, and PG County native Kevin Durant—joined us to discuss how our partnership is helping College Track pave more critical pathways to opportunity.

Three happy College Track students at the Durant Center

“I Wish I Had Gotten to Them Sooner”

College Track’s story traces back to 1997 in East Palo Alto, California, when co-founders Laurene Powell Jobs and Carlos Watson were advising rising high school seniors about the college admissions process—and discovered that many lacked the guidance needed to achieve their goals.

“When you start working with any student in 12th grade, you automatically think, ‘Goodness gracious, I wish I had gotten to them sooner,’” explains Harris.

Eager to make a difference, the co-founders spent a year investigating local support programs and nonprofits that worked with teens. They found many programs for elementary and middle school students, but no comprehensive programs supporting high schoolers. “So that’s how College Track was born,” says Harris. “It was all about getting students to college and getting to them early enough to provide the support and resources needed to succeed.”

Beginning with the first year of our partnership, 2U has sent volunteers to our college advising programs. This year, our focus will be getting students through the college application process. I’m looking forward to all the possibilities with 2U.
— Jane Harris, Ed.D, founding site director of College Track’s Durant Center

A Rigorous Academic Approach

Across all of College Track’s national locations, 96% of its high school students matriculate to a two- or four-year college—and then go on to graduate at double the rate of their first-generation and low-income peers. Students who start at a four-year college graduate at even higher rates, surpassing both their peers and the general student population, regardless of socioeconomic status.

Launched three years ago with only freshmen at the start, College Track’s Durant Center currently supports 172 students across all high school grade levels—100% of which are students of color and 88% will be the first in their family to go to college. This fall is the first year the Durant Center is supporting seniors in their efforts to apply to and attend the college of their choice in 2022.

“When you’re low-income or first-generation, you don't always have access to the same quality of academic services and support that others might have,” explains Harris. “College Track supplements that with several academic intervention classes—a big one being math, where a lot of students struggle and get stuck in bigger and bigger gaps over time. Many of our students around the country wind up taking AP courses and finishing with high GPAs, because the competition out there really is that stiff.”

A gathering place for College Track students at the Durant Center

Care-Driven Support

“We also offer other critical resources,” Harris continues, “like teaching students how to persevere when the going gets tough and how to advocate for themselves when something doesn’t feel fair. These things may seem like common sense to some students, but for many of our kids, these are skills that need to be taught.”

Another key to the College Track approach is an emphasis on student wellness. Often, says Harris, students don’t recognize the signs of persistent stress. “They've always lived in it,” she explains, “so they don't realize how it’s really impacting them—even if, for example, they have to take a job to help their family make ends meet or they’re helping take care of a sick parent. We have wellness classes and seminars where we give our students assessments to find out how they're doing and what their unique situation is.”

From there, College Track professionals examine stress levels and develop additional wellness activities, so that students can take control of their educational future—and change the narrative for their lives.

Welcoming faces (and cool sweatshirts) at a College Track alumni networking event

Partners in Long-Term Student Success

2U volunteers have been critical to College Track’s mission of providing ongoing support for Durant Center students. In particular, they have offered career guidance and have volunteered to assist students through the complexities of college, financial aid, and scholarship applications, which for many underserved populations is not an intuitive process.

“Beginning with the first year of our partnership, 2U has sent volunteers to our college advising programs,” says Harris. “They brought hot meals for our students, which really helped motivate them to engage on a Friday afternoon. That was very valuable. We’ve also enjoyed having 2U volunteers come down and talk to students about their careers, and help us out with our student showcases.”

“This year, our focus will be really honing in on getting students through the college application process,” Harris continues, “helping them write admissions essays and getting them in tip-top shape. That’s one of our biggest needs, along with virtual tutoring and maybe creating a bank of people to help students out with their homework in a live chat format. I’m just looking forward to all the possibilities with 2U. It’s going to be a great school year.”

Learn more about us.

At 2U, we’re on a mission—to eliminate the back row in higher education and help universities thrive in the digital age. To learn more about who we are and what we do, follow the links below.