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Bruce Poinsette of The Skanner News
Published: 30 January 2012

As the Class of 2012 prepares to graduate in June, there are many students who either won't finish high school or don't have the resources to be successful in post secondary education.

"Applying to college is not an easy process," says Kali Ladd, education strategies director under Mayor Sam Adams, at left. "We want to eliminate the barriers. Sometimes the biggest barrier is not knowing."

Portland Parks and Recreation is partnering with the mayor's office to help Portland area students finish their post secondary education and build careers through the Future Connect Initiative.

According to a study done by the Oregon Department of Education in 2011, one in three students in 2009-2010 dropped out.

The numbers are even worse for Black students in particular, who have a 49.8 percent graduation rate.

Ladd says the goal of Future Connect is to make the process of post secondary education more transparent.

The program provides services like one on one counseling and skill training for students.

Future Connect utilizes a partnership between businesses, colleges and communities.

"We certainly don't have the resources to do it on our own," says Ladd. "This helps get the word out."

Future Connect is funded by a grant the Mayor's Office secured from Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA). Currently, VISTA members work as community strategy coordinators at Matt Dishman, East Portland and Mt. Scott Community Centers.

The City of Portland has invested half a million dollars into scholarships for students to attend local colleges and trade schools.

According to Ladd, the investment will provide scholarships for a cohort of 200 students.

Part of the program allots college coaches to students. These coaches help the students with emergency funds and navigating the financial aid process.

"It's important not just for the youth to get in but to also finish," says Ladd. "As high as the dropout rate is for high school, it's even higher for college."

Ladd says the success of youth in secondary education helps the community's overall livability. According to the Talent Dividend, she says that increasing the number of youth who complete post secondary education by one percent would produce a $1.6 billion increase in revenue for the region.

According to a study by the Alliance for Excellent Education, there were 6,900 dropouts in the Class of 2010 in the Portland-Vancouver-Beaverton area. The study says these students would collectively earn $40 million more a year if they had earned their diplomas. It also says their increased earnings would allow them to spend an additional $29 million and invest an additional $10 million a year. Lastly, the study says the spending and investments would be enough to support 350 new jobs and increase gross regional product (GRP) by $55 million.

Upcoming events for Future Connect utilize everything from hands-on demonstrations to social media to give students college and career insight.

The first of these events is the "Path to Scholarships Workshop", which will be held at Mt. Hood Community College on Jan. 28. It goes from 10 am to 4 pm and includes lunch.

The workshop is designed to help students learn where to find scholarships and fine tune their college application essays.

Ladd says that college counselors in high schools can't be expected to handle the needs of all their students when they are tasked with serving hundreds of students by themselves.

The second Future Connect event is "I 'Like' Financial Aid". It will be held from 4 to 8 pm on Feb. 9.

In order for students to participate they need to go to the Future Connect Facebook page, where they can get real-time answers from experts.

Teen F/X will be hosting "Tech Night" at Mt. Scott Community Center on Feb. 17. The event will go from 7 to 9 pm.

According to Portland Parks and Recreation, it's an opportunity for students to explore technology careers and participate in hands-on activities.

Ladd says there are plenty of small tech businesses, looking for employees in the region.

"The youth don't know what's out there," she says. "These are growing fields where you can make good money."

Lastly, Future Connect is putting together a trade school night in May.

"We're looking for more ways to connect with the private sector to help youth enter career fields," says Ladd. "We're building momentum and support."

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