Gateway to College program gives students a second chance to earn their high school diploma, improving college readiness


Gateway to College program gives students a second chance to earn their high school diploma, improving college readiness

Gateway to College at Camden County College, Camden, New Jersey

In September 2011, the Gateway to College program at Camden County College in New Jersey opened its doors to help out-of-school youth simultaneously earn a high school diploma and Camden County College credits toward an associate’s degree or certificate. Part of the Gateway to College National Network, the program works in close collaboration with the Camden City School District, the Pennsauken School District, and Camden County College to improve college readiness.

“Our objective is to give young people a second opportunity,” explained Dr. Irvin Sweeney, director of the program. Operating on a college schedule, the program gives students multiple chances to graduate, as opposed to a traditional high school. On average, seventy-five to eighty students are enrolled in the program each year, and it takes students one to two years to graduate.

Gateway students at Camden County College

Candidates for the program must be between the ages of sixteen and nineteen, live within the boundaries of the Camden City School District or the Pennsauken School District, be out of school or behind in credits for their grade level, and be able to read at an 8th-grade level or higher. They undergo a rigorous application process because the program requires a high level of commitment.

As part of the academic program, students use GradPoint®, a set of online courses and services now part of the Pearson Connexus suite of offerings, for credit recovery. Approximately 95 percent of all students are assigned at least one GradPoint course as they complete the requirements to earn their high school diploma, and these courses account for approximately 25 percent of the overall high school credits earned in the program.

GradPoint, a web-based solution, provides flexibility and personalized learning. It allows students to use whatever free time they have to gain the credits they need, a particularly helpful feature for students who work part-time or who contend with difficult circumstances that prevent them from attending classes on location.

The Camden Gateway program makes great demands on students in helping them achieve college readiness. The staff holds students to high standards and does not “make any excuses for failure,” according to Gwendolyn Mickens, a parent of a Camden Gateway graduate and a former writing instructor in the program. As both a parent and an instructor, Mickens saw how the program teaches students to take responsibility for their own education.

Seventeen-year-old Melissa Volkert learned that “you’ve got to help yourself.” Melissa enrolled in the program because a medical condition made a traditional high school schedule challenging. The program helped her gain self-confidence and put her on the path to achieving her goal of becoming a dietician.

To help students succeed, the program focuses on the total development of each student. In the words of Scott Oliver, lead resource specialist, it provides students with a “safe haven.” The program offers personal counseling, academic advising, and other support. The staff makes sure that students have a secondary readiness plan by the time they receive their high school diploma so they can continue on to further education, a career, or military service.

A large portion of students’ success is dependent on getting them to understand that they can succeed.

Dr. Irvin Sweeney, Director, Gateway to College at Camden County College

In just four years, the Camden Gateway program has achieved impressive results in helping students gain their high school diploma and college readiness. Students have maintained their commitment to their studies, as shown by the data. From 2011 to 2014, the average attendance rate was over 94 percent. The persistence/retention rate was 85.6 percent, one of the highest in the nation, according to the Gateway to College National Network.

From 2013 to 2015, the program achieved a 100 percent high school graduation rate for seniors, with forty-nine students graduating in 2013, fifty-five graduating in 2014, and forty-one graduating in 2015. Of the 2013 and 2014 graduates, 84.6 percent either enrolled in college or enlisted in the military. In 2015, approximately 87.5 percent of graduates have indicated an interest in enrolling in college or enlisting in the military.


Melissa Volkert completed the program in one year, graduating in June 2015. She will continue her education at Camden County College. When Melissa first heard about the program, she thought, “This place is too good to be true.” But she learned that everything she was told about the program was indeed true. “The program turned my life around. I’m on track,” she remarked. “Second chances do exist.”

To learn more about how the Camden Gateway program helps students earn their high school diploma and achieve college readiness, read the full success story.

Read the full success story
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