‘Gateway to College’ to be offered at Madison College’s Portage campus

August 3, 2018

Area students who didn’t finish high school but want to go to college soon will get the chance to do both, simultaneously, at Madison College’s Portage campus.

Madison College-Portage is the first regional campus to offer “Gateway to College” — a national program that has existed at the Truax campus in Madison for the past five years. Portage High School, meanwhile, becomes the first high school in the region to start identifying students it believes would fit the program.

Students ages 16 to 21 can earn college credit while completing their high school diploma requirements in Gateway. The special attention students receive from Gateway instructors goes beyond what other programs offer in terms of identifying student strengths and weaknesses, explained Madison College’s Juanita Comeau, director of College and Career Transitions.

“You could come in here and take the GED Program, which is a great program, but it is not as involved as this one,” Comeau said. “Understand every student is different and has different needs, but we’re very particular in their first semester at Gateway, providing intense wraparound support to students.”

Participating students might have either dropped out of high school or be current students struggling in the traditional school system. In the first semester of Gateway, students typically earn between 9 and 12 college credits, most of them dual credits that help them earn their high school diploma. Participating high schools re-enroll students for the Gateway program and therefore receive state aid for them just like any other student. Despite the financial arrangement, the schools and students ultimately assume no financial burdens, explained Portage Community School District Assistant Superintendent Peter Hibner.

“It’s a win-win,” he said. “We’re looking to serve kids who basically dropped out of school or who are substantially behind. … From the school’s perspective we’re helping kids realize their dreams and opening up new opportunities for them.”

Interested students first visit campus to learn about the program, then apply and interview for a spot if they want in. For Gateway, Madison College seeks students who can commit to 100 percent attendance, have close to 50 percent completion of high school credits required for graduation and have a minimum eighth-grade reading level.

Madison College-Portage could have as many as 19 area students participating in Gateway in the fall. As of this week, Portage was the only high school to officially sign onto the program, but area school districts considering the program include Pardeeville, Poynette, Cambria, Montello and Baraboo.

“When you’re 19 years old you don’t want to go back to high school,” Comeau said of the program’s appeal. Gateway in Madison annually takes on about 75 students, the vast majority of them from Dane County. The profile for most students who enroll in Gateway includes a GPA of about 2.0 or below, and the average GPA for students who later complete Gateway is 2.8.

More than a dozen Gateway students finished as honor students, Comeau said, highlighting how the program seeks to reignite their passion for learning, while also putting them on proper footing for their career interests. “They really do reinvent themselves,” she said of Gateway students who become part of the college community. “We don’t like to call it a second chance. We call it a new beginning because we don’t want them to think of it as their last chance.”

Comeau lauded Portage High School administration for “providing the energy” behind Gateway getting offered locally. “I applaud their heart. They really want every student to earn their high school diploma.”

Forty-three colleges in 23 states participate in Gateway, which was launched in Portland, Oregon in 2000. In addition to not paying tuition, students in Gateway receive scholarships for books and fees and receive a free daily meal, according to materials supplied by Madison College.

Students interested in participating in the program may visit Madison College-Portage or call 608-243-4597.

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