HWS President Mark D. Gearan was invited by The White House to join other national leaders in higher education in Washington, D.C., for the White House College Opportunity Day of Action, a summit on Dec. 4 focusing on the continued efforts to expand college access for underserved and low-income students.
For HWS and the Geneva City School District, efforts to increase college opportunities for students have been a central part of the Geneva 2020 initiative, which is working to increase graduation rates, literacy and college readiness. During the Day of Action in Washington, a plan facilitated by HWS that introduces outreach programs and support for students interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education will be discussed. The Day of Action followed an initial gathering in January 2014 at the White House where Gearan was one of 85 college presidents to share in a dialogue about localized commitments across the nation that are supporting college opportunity and access.
The White House College Opportunity Day of Action helped to support President Barack Obama’s commitment to partner with colleges and universities, business leaders, and nonprofits to support students across the country to help the nation reach its goal of leading the world in college attainment. It centered on the collaborations of colleges and universities that have been committed to increasing the number of college graduates, as well as an opportunity to address what works, the new partnerships between school districts, colleges and universities to increase high school graduates’ college readiness, and new commitments related to the work started in January. The focus of this summit was on college advising and school counselors, increasing the number of STEM graduates, and reforming developmental education. The program, which included remarks from the President and First Lady Michelle Obama, panel discussions and breakout sessions, was held at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center. Domestic Policy Adviser Cecilia Muñoz and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan led the program.
“Hobart and William Smith Colleges are proud to join the College Opportunity Day of Action to share our continued engagement in the national effort to increase college opportunities for underserved young people,” Gearan says. “Locally, we have been collaborating with our colleagues in the Geneva schools on this important issue, making it a priority through the Geneva 2020 initiative. At the Colleges, we look forward to advancing our commitments in the coming year.”
The central goal of the new action plan is HWS’ commitment to reach more than 300 students annually with a STEM focused outreach program which will commence in 2015, leading to a 15 percent increase in STEM enrollment in college programs starting with the graduating high school class of 2018. Included among the new STEM commitments are: a “STEM Careers in Geneva Video” and an enhanced job shadow program. The effort is an extension of the Geneva 2020 initiative, the community’s collective impact, bringing together HWS, Geneva schools, local businesses, the faith community, and the SUNY Cradle to Career Alliance to positively influence school success for children of the Geneva City School District.
The “STEM Careers in Geneva Video” initiative reflects the collaboration among HWS, Finger Lakes Community College and the Cornell University Cooperative Extension for harnessing resources around careers in the STEM fields. The video will highlight the connection between STEM school success and local STEM career possibilities.
Geneva has a new Viticulture Center at Finger Lakes Community College, a soon to open solar farm and an observatory that will break ground this spring, in addition to countless other examples. At Geneva High School, 15 first-year students participated in the pilot job shadow program last year, and HWS has committed to growing that effort at least threefold and will include job shadow placements in the STEM fields, to align with studies that connect experiential learning with long-term school success and career preparation.
At the summit, participants are being asked to commit to new action in one of four areas: building networks of colleges around promoting completion, creating K-16 partnerships around college readiness, investing in high school counselors as part of the First Lady’s Reach Higher initiative, and increasing the number of college graduates in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Obama is also announcing new steps on how the Administration is helping to support these actions, including announcing $10 million to help promote college completion and a $30 million AmeriCorps program that will improve low-income students’ access to college.
Nationwide, only 9 percent of those born in the lowest family income quartile attain a bachelor’s degree by age 25, compared to 54 percent in the top quartile. In an effort to expand college access, the Obama Administration has increased Pell scholarships by $1,000 a year, created the new American Opportunity Tax Credit worth up to $10,000 over four years of college, limited student loan payments to 10 percent of income, and established an agenda to reduce college costs and promote innovation and competition.
Since 1999, Gearan has led the Colleges during a period of unprecedented growth and development. One of the nation’s leading experts on the intersection of higher education and civic engagement, Gearan is chair of the Talloires Network Steering Committee. With extensive credentials in public policy, he served as Director of the Peace Corps and was Assistant to the President, Director of Communications and Deputy Chief of Staff in the Clinton White House. Gearan is a former member of the White House Council for Community Solutions, a group of cross-sector leaders appointed by Obama to recommend collaborative solutions to increase civic engagement. In the upstate region, Gearan serves on the advisory councils of the Happiness House Foundation, Ontario ARC and the Geneva Community Center, and is a founding member of Geneva 2020.