What is one of Omaha’s most powerful tools for strengthening our area’s future? Well-designed, well-funded programs that extend educational opportunity for Omaha youths.
Our area is fortunate that so many individuals and organizations have devoted tremendous time and resources to major educational outreach to students. A complete listing would take up much of today’s newspaper, but a brief sampling can include the Avenue Scholars mentorship initiative for disadvantaged youths; efforts, such as Million Girls Moonshot, to help girls learn about STEM fields; a wide range of scholarships, including the Scott Scholars and the Goodrich Scholars; and the longstanding partnership between Metropolitan Community College and the University of Nebraska at Omaha to facilitate students’ transfer from Metro to UNO.
It’s imperative that Omaha-area institutions and sponsors remain creative in exploring new possibilities for such outreach and support. One such effort is the new STEM Community Platform, an online site that connects students with a wide range of tech-focused internships and resources and is supported by a broad set of Nebraska businesses and institutions, with particular support from MCC. Julie Sigmon provides details in a Midlands Voices essay today.
She notes that fewer than 46% of Nebraska’s fourth-grade students are proficient in math, according to the U.S. Department of Education, and proficiency drops to less than 38% by eighth grade. Findings are similar regarding science.
It’s important, too, to promote public awareness of current successes. A visit to Omaha this week by University of Nebraska-Lincoln Chancellor Ronnie Green highlighted one such success: the Nebraska College Preparatory Academies, helping students at Omaha North High since 2008 and at Omaha South since 2017. The program currently involves 84 students at Omaha North and 105 at Omaha South.
The initiative selects academically talented eighth-graders from income-eligible backgrounds whose families have no direct experience with college. The students receive counseling to prepare them for college. Qualified students receive financial support, enabled through philanthropic support, covering their direct costs of attending UNL. Counseling supports the students during their time in college.
The success rate has been impressive: a six-year graduation rate of about 75%, which is 10 points above the overall UNL figure. That is a notable improvement over the national figure, as only 11% of first-generation, low-income students graduate from college.
“NCPA scholars are among the most successful students on our campus,” Green writes.