Camden’s gateway to college

African American woman graduating from college and smiling with her family

June took me to New Jersey, where I was honored to speak at Camden County College’s Gateway to College commencement ceremony. Many of you are already familiar with the Gateway to College scholarship program, which serves a diverse group of out-of-school young people who have not thrived in a traditional high school setting. The Gateway program gives 16- to 20-year-olds a second chance to not only earn a high school diploma, but also begin earning college credits toward an associate’s degree or certificate.

In preparation for my address to this year’s CCC Gateway graduates, and really wanting to connect with the students, I did some “homework” myself by searching the internet and logging into GradPoint, Pearson’s digital learning solution for credit recovery, and a key component of the Gateway academic program. (95% of all students are assigned at least one GradPoint course as they complete the requirements to earn their high school diploma; these courses account for approximately 25% of the overall high school credits earned in the program.) I listened to replays of some of the better commencement speeches given in the last decade or so. From a deeply moving Steve Jobs at Stanford University in 2005, to President Obama’s inspiring words delivered this May at Howard University, there were some truly transcendent points to borrow from.

And then it was my turn at the podium.

IMG_1011 (1).JPG


My message was, appropriate to the occasion, one of well-deserved and hard-earned congratulations. It was also one of mutual gratitude. Gratitude for every opportunity and everyone that made it possible for these kids, and for me, someone who knows firsthand what it’s like to attend high school in a tough socio-economic area, to reach an educational milestone that I hope will one day be attainable by all who aspire to it. While each of our learning journeys is unique, I hoped sharing how my own experience was somewhat like theirs and would resonate with these Gateway students. I think I surprised them when disclosing that, while I graduated from college and later earned my MBA, I missed my own high school graduation. After an illness took me out of school my junior year and left me a few credits short of earning my diploma, my path to completing high school on-time involved going to summer school before entering college that fall, a path that was unconventional but by no means singular. I’ll be eternally grateful to the support system—my mother and my basketball coach—that was, effectively, my “gateway” to college before their program existed. Addressing a room of eager young minds and their proud families, I saw that gratitude in the faces of these new graduates. Not lost on me—nor on them—was the sobering reality that, if not for programs like Gateway to College, their futures (and mine) may have lacked the promise unlocked by completing high school. This is perhaps true in today’s economy more than ever, when, according to an NCES report, the 2015 employment rate among 20- to 24-year-olds was only 51% for those who did not complete high school.

CCC’s Gateway to College program has been exciting to follow, and is one to which Pearson has provided steady support and contributed money throughout the past several years. This year, Connections Education proudly donated 30 desktops and monitors to help sustain and foster the future success of this terrific program that, since it’s inception in 2011, has achieved impressive results in helping students earn their high school diploma and prepare for college or the world of work. Notably, from 2013 to 2015, the program saw a 100% high school graduation rate for seniors, with approximately 87.5% of last year’s graduates indicating an interest in enrolling in college or enlisting in the military.

On Tuesday June 28th, the Camden Gateway program received the Gateway to College National Network Program Excellence Award for 2014-15 at its Peer Learning Conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Camden Gateway had exceeded all the benchmarks established by the network to determine program success.

For all of the program’s success, and not meaning to overshadow the celebratory mood of CCC’s 2016 commencement, the challenge remains reaching the nearly 7 million young learners nationwide who are neither enrolled in school nor employed. Fortunately, Pearson has long been and continues to be a trusted partner to these learners, a staunch proponent of programs like Gateway to College, and a provider of solutions that open doors for learners everywhere. It is a privilege to be part of a company whose mission is to do just that—help people, especially those who need it most, make progress in their lives through learning.

Visit Connections Learning to learn more about students who have found success in virtual learning environments.

About the Author

Alfred Binford

Alfred Binford

Joining Pearson in late 2014 as Managing Director of Assessment & Direct Delivery in North America, Alfred Binford now leads Pearson’s sales and business development activities for State and National Services, Clinical Assessment, and Connections Learning. He is focused on further developing Pearson’s comprehensive portfolio of assessments that help administrators, teachers, students, and parents improve education outcomes.

Alfred has over 25 years of experience in the technology and telecommunications industries and has led large teams across the U.S. and around the world. Most recently, Alfred served as CEO of Mycom North America. Before Mycom, he held senior leadership positions with Vodafone, Amdocs, and Unisys, where his work included driving business development and delivering on large K-20 contracts such as The California State University system, Chicago Public Schools, and Detroit Public Schools.