Addressing the Widening College Graduation Gap

with John Branam of Get Schooled

The gap between white and Black students earning college degrees is widening.

John Branam, Executive Director of Get Schooled, joins host Tetiana Anderson to discuss barriers to success for Black, brown, and first-generation college students.

Posted on:

July 31, 2023

Hosted by: Tetiana Anderson
Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Anderson: For many high school seniors, the college process is an exciting next step filled with promise. However, for first generation low income and Black and brown students, the application process can be stressful because many don't have the guidance and resources to get into and complete college. Hello and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Tetiana Anderson. While college enrollment rates have declined for all students in the U.S., the gap between white students and Black students graduating with degrees is growing. Joining me to discuss efforts to help young people attend college and land their first jobs and succeed is John Branam. He is the executive director of Get Schooled. And, John, thank you so much for being here.

Branam: Thanks, Tetiana. I appreciate the opportunity.

Anderson: So the statistics that your organization cites essentially say that the college enrollment of Black students is down 29% since 2010. What's behind the drop in those numbers?

Branam: Yeah, I mean, it's incredibly worrisome, right? So I think that there are a couple of things at play. The first is that, you know, for many years now, we've been living in a culture where there's a lot of downward pressure across the United States around the value proposition of higher ed. That's also worrisome because we know that higher ed is a step to financial independence and freedom. And and that's particularly true for Black and brown folks across the country. I think, secondly, if we're being really honest, there's sort of this culture of systemic racism in this country and a lot of discouragement around Black and brown youth heading to college. I think, thirdly, the debt loads for Black and brown youth tend to be higher than for white students, and that makes the value proposition of going to higher ed more difficult. And finally, I would say Black and brown youth don't always feel like they belong in higher ed. And so that again is something that we help, especially Black and Bbown youth overcome.

Anderson: So of course, the goal here is to reach as many students as possible. And I know that you say you all have the model to achieve that goal because you are the only free digital college and job advisor. What makes this model so effective when it comes to actually reaching your target audience?

Branam: Yeah, I appreciate that question, and I just want to be really honest. Like, we're very humble in this work and there are so many great organizations, colleagues and friends of ours that do amazing work across the country to help more Black and brown youth get into higher ed and be successful. I think the thing that makes us special is that we are all digital. So if we think about how Black and brown youth and all youth frankly are spending their time every day, it's online, they're on their phones, they're texting, they're on social media. And that's where Get Schooled is, right? So we have more than a million young people come to our website every year, more than six million views of our content. So we're putting content out there that's culturally relevant, research based, video based, really engaging, and that's what young people want to see and engage with. So that's very effective, and then I think it's complemented by our, honestly, really terrific staff, most of whom are also first gen Black and brown graduates. And so young people trust us as they're engaging with us digitally.

Anderson: Everything we're talking about here, this whole struggle to find a path to higher education are things that you've personally dealt with. This touches you. What's your story?

Branam: Yeah, so I mean, honestly, I grew up as a low-income Black youth in small town Oregon. And, you know, my college counselors were really wonderful, but they were also overwhelmed. Today, the high school, college and career counselor to student ratio is 1:408, and that's across the country. In California, it's over 500, Michigan, 600, Arizona, 650. So if you're a Black, brown first gen or immigrant youth in this country, it's difficult to get the supports you need to navigate. And that was true in my case, and it was true through to college. Just not not a lot of the supports that I needed as a first gen college goer.

Anderson: So, your organization has been around for about 15 years at this point. And I know that in the school year of 2022, 2023, you reached about 25,000 students, a significant number. Where do you go from here, though? I mean, what's the future of Get Schooled?

Branam: Yeah, so we think the digital offerings and supports, personalized supports that we offer are really powerful, and we think a compelling model in a direction that we're moving is to partner with more in-person organizations. So think Big Brothers, Big Sisters chapters, Urban League chapters, Girls Inc. chapters, come alongside them and help them with our digital content and help their young people succeed. So that's one thing. Partnering with school districts, and of course, finding investors and partners that want to help us grow.

Anderson: People are going to want to know more. What is your website? Where should they look?

Branam: You bet. So, plus on all social media handles. And on our website you can find content, personalized supports.

Anderson: John Branam of Get Schooled, thank you so much for being here.

Branam: Thank you, Tetiana.

Anderson: And thanks to you as well for watching. As always, for more great conversations with leaders in your own community and across the nation, log on to I'm Tetiana Anderson.

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