Coming together to do what makes sense for our kids

June 19th, 2014

Category: News, Postsecondary Success

Last week The New York Times published an article on Delaware’s work to improve college access, and I want to share it again in case you missed it and to underscore why it is so important.

The story is pretty straightforward. Every year, about 20% of Delaware children (or about 1,800 high school seniors) do well enough on the SAT to be successful in college but don’t apply. In Delaware, and in most states, that’s just the way it is, usually. Last year, state and local leadership stepped up and said they are going to reach out to each and every one of those kids to find out why they were making this choice and to see if they could help.

Over time, this initiative became known as “Getting to Zero.” It involves mobilizing national partners like Harvard University to do the research so that state officials can find students who need support, as well as the College Board to waive application fees and to build new partnerships with colleges and universities across the country. It involves state level leaders in our Department of Education not sitting back, but being proactive and building a plan to personally text, snail mail, and call each and every one of these students. And, just as important, it means engaging local college students, teachers, guidance counselors, and non-profits (like ours) to help students with filling out financial aid forms and college applications.

The bottom line, we “got to zero.” Every one of those 1,800 students applied to college. This type of work has the chance to change the trajectory for thousands of young people over time as it did for Susan Nye, the focus of The New York Times story. Susan is now a freshman at Stanford with a full scholarship, yet previously had only considered local colleges due to the associated financial expenses.

For me, this effort feels like a barn raising. The community, both locally and beyond, is coming together to do something that makes sense for kids. This is part of what makes Delaware unique. We can talk to each other and make things happen.

And people are starting to notice. There were numerous comments on The New York Times article, including:

Douglas Roger, Sao Paulo, Brazil: “Congrats to Delaware! What you are trying to accomplish is amazing to say the least…Quite honestly, I would be a proud taxpayer if I were a U.S. citizen.”

Siobhan, New York: “I am so glad this kind of approach is being used on a state-wide level, in conjunction with the high schools. Ms Nye’s story is wonderful–I hope it is repeated many times over. And hopefully other states will follow Delaware’s groundbreaking work. We can’t afford to let a single capable student fall through the cracks. Especially for lack of funds to simply apply.”

Terry Brady, New Jersey: “This is spectacular, brilliant and a model for America. It is the only way to get all the Oars in the water pulling in an enterprise direction towards American leadership again. No brain left behind and the bed of good governance. Bravo Delaware.”

Coming together to do what makes sense for our children is fundamental to related work you’ll be hearing about more this summer, led by the Vision Coalition of Delaware. It’s called ED25, short for a “Vision for Education in Delaware in 2025.” The Coalition is engaging Delawareans to develop a plan to address what it will take for a young person to be “well-educated” a decade from now and as important, how our schools will need to adapt to meet that vision. Please see a list of upcoming community conversations, contact the Coalition at, or simply go to the website to learn more and share your thoughts.

Paul Herdman



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