Volume 43 | Number 2 | Fall 2013

A New START for Students

Fall 2013 Issue | By Stuart Summers

Three years ago, Brad Kimber was working a dead-end construction job with no clear plan for his future. The high school dropout not only lacked an education, but also felt that he didn't have the capability to succeed. Fast forward three years to today and Kimber's story is quite different.

In 2011, Kimber was a GED student, who, by his own admission, was not prepared to pursue a higher education. He said, "I was really nervous to come to college and believe in myself that I would succeed." In May of this year, Kimber graduated with high honors and was heavily recruited to take a job as an instrumentation technician in the energy industry.

Kimber's struggles with education hit a low when he dropped out of high school at 16 years old. Following that decision, he struggled for many years to find adequate employment and bounced around the construction industry. After the economy took a turn for the worse, five years ago, he made a life-altering decision.

"I was tired of struggling and decided that I needed a career path," he said.

Kimber began with the Successful Transitions and Retention Track, otherwise known as START, which launched in 2011 through the generous support of the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation. The foundation awarded the ISU College of Technology with a $1.2 million grant to focus on students—like Kimber—who face barriers to obtaining a higher education.

START is a pre-college course that prepares students for success at ISU. The free program specifically focuses on specialized math and English courses, financial planning classes, personal and career counseling, and helps students to develop a positive self-identity. Students who successfully complete the semester-long training are then admitted into a program at ISU, receive a scholarship, and continue to receive support and counseling until they graduate.

Kimber was part of the first cohort in May 2011, and in July of this year, START accepted 30 new students into its seventh cohort. A majority of START participants hold a GED, but others are high school graduates who lack the support needed to be successful in college. In just over two years, START has directly worked with more than 150 students in the Pocatello area.

"We are helping students to overcome obstacles and barriers that keep them from succeeding in college," said Amy Christensen, START coordinator. "There's a misperception that students drop out because of academic inability. We've found that life challenges often overwhelm a student, so we focus on helping to successfully overcome obstacles and eventually graduate."

The START program is already performing well above the national average. The program proudly boasts a 75 percent persistence rate for their students in college. Nationally, only about 16 percent of GED students who attempt college will make it through the first year. START has been widely recognized across the country for successfully achieving a a program success rate of more than four times the national average.

In addition to a high number of students successfully transitioning to college, START participants have an average cumulative GPA of 3.2. Christensen attributes this achievement to a focus on developing each student's identity.

Christensen said, "This program is successful because we focus on bringing up a participant's self worth. Yes, we also focus on academics, but we really emphasize and make sure each student feels confident in their ability to succeed."

The J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation has also been impressed with the success of the program and are considering awarding additional grant money in January 2014 to ensure the continuation of the START program. Recently, ISU also recognized the importance of the pilot program and provided funding to transition START to a permanent fixture on campus.

"Our community gets that much better with each person START helps to find their path and be successful in college," said Christensen. "We are looking to effectively train our citizens and that begins with providing the tools necessary to graduate from college."