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BACK ON TRACK: New Report Highlights Dropout Recovery Programs in the Southwest

“I began to think about the hundreds of young people in the community who had almost made it and were ‘struck’ without a high school diploma.”

Dropout recovery programs are gaining traction and attention in the Southwest as several flagship “back-on-track” initiatives find success through an innovative educational structure that allows students to obtain a high school diploma while taking college courses to prepare for their future, a new First Focus report details.

Back on Track Through College in the Rio Grande Valley: From Dropout Recovery to Postsecondary Success looks at the work and legacy of Dr. Daniel King, superintendent of the Pharr–San Juan–Alamo Independent School District in Texas, who changed the landscape of dropout recovery programs in 2007 when he launched the College, Career, and Technology Academy (CCTA). Faced with a high school dropout rate of 38 percent—nearly double the state average, in a district where 90 percent of the population is Hispanic, and one-third of those are economically disadvantaged—Dr. King set out to find a way to target that population and capitalize on their untapped potential.

“I began to think about the hundreds of young people in the community who had almost made it and were ‘struck’ without a high school diploma,” Dr. King writes in the report. “The likely impact on these young people and their families hit me hard, but the probable cumulative impact on a community with hundreds of dropouts each year, resulting in thousands of young adults never completing high school, had devastating potential.”

Partnered with South Texas College, CCTA is a dual-enrollment recovery program, providing online credit recovery while also engaging students in technical and vocational college courses. CCTA targets students aged eighteen to twenty-six years old who are a mix of dropouts and high school seniors and who failed their exit tests or lacked enough credits to graduate. Since 2007, nearly 1,000 students have graduated from CCTA, and more than half have graduated with college credits, helping to prepare them for postsecondary success.

Dubbed a “back-on-track” program, the success of CCTA has inspired many others. South Texas College is looking to create a teaching center, the first step to a branch campus. High schools around the district and region have adopted recovery programs within their walls. Additionally, Jobs for the Future has created a replication network in which six communities in the Rio Grande Valley and throughout Texas participate.

“This strategy has paid off, as the high schools have developed ‘back-on-track’ solutions for their own struggling students,” Dr. King says.

The future of back-on-track programs looks bright. In 2011, the Texas state legislature passed a bill allowing community colleges to launch CCTA-like programs on their campuses, partnering with school districts that have high school dropout rates higher than 15 percent. Additionally, community colleges that participate in dropout recovery programs are eligible to receive a negotiated amount of funds per pupil for participating students from their partner school districts.

Nationally, Jobs for the Future is looking to CCTA to provide instruction and guidance to districts on how to develop similar programs for their communities. CCTA will serve as a demonstration site and launch-pad for future, similar initiatives. Look to CCTA this fall when they will host “residencies” to instruct educators on strategies and tools for college-ready success.

“It has become obvious that there is a great need for this ‘back-on-track through college’ approach throughout the country,” Dr. King notes. “To support replication and scaling, the development of CCTA into a very high-quality demonstration site capable of supporting many visitors with quality assistance is critical.”

Back on Track Through College in the Rio Grande Valley is available at

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