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Group sparks learning reform

A fresh crop of students is entering our region’s colleges, coming from near and far to attend our community colleges or our several four-year universities.

Too many of these freshmen are about to get an ugly surprise: They may not have the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in college. A student can graduate from high school and still not be prepared for college-level classes.

In Spokane Public Schools, more than three out of four students graduated on time in 2010-’11, according to the National Student Clearinghouse. Yet the most recent college-going rates for 2009-’10 indicate that less than six out of 10 Spokane graduates went directly to college.

Nationally, just one in five students from low-income families is prepared for college-level work, compared with more than one-half of middle- and upper-income students. Nearly one-half of Washington college students require remedial classes in order to qualify for credit-bearing, degree courses. Most of those students drop out of college before moving on to degree coursework.

By 2018, two-thirds of the jobs in Washington will require a college degree or career credential. Especially critical is learning in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) disciplines because of the expected growth in those fields. According to John Winder, executive director of Spokane STEM Learning Network, “70 percent (of STEM occupations) require at least a bachelor’s degree.”

Given these bleak forecasts, what is being done to help our young people? College Spark Washington, a private foundation headquartered in Seattle, has as its mission to devote its resources solely to help low-income students become college-ready, and to earn their degrees. Since 2005, College Spark Washington has committed more than $31 million to college readiness and degree completion programs throughout the state.

College Spark Washington invests in two initiatives in the K-12 system – Navigation 101 and AVID – that help support students and faculties to be successful in challenging coursework to prepare for college, and to create an environment in which students see themselves as succeeding in college. College Spark also supports Achieving the Dream, an initiative in the community college system to help students toward credit-bearing coursework.

On the local level, College Spark is sponsoring a $75,000 community grant to help align math courses at Spokane Falls Community College with the classes taught in the Spokane Public Schools. This program connects the faculties at the high-school and college levels to better prepare all students for college-level work.

College Spark Washington is also one of the sponsors of, a free, Web-based scholarship clearinghouse that offered more than $46 million in Washington during the 2011-’12 academic year. More than 100,000 scholarship seekers are registered on the site. You may know or may be a person who could use a service such as this. If so, go to

College Spark Washington is currently accepting applications for our Community Grants Program to be awarded in 2013. If you know of an organization, school or college engaged in innovative programs to serve low-income students, please steer them to

Christie Querna is an educator and former member of the Spokane Public Schools board of directors. She is a member of the board of trustees of College Spark Washington.


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