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Blocking the Transfer Portal to Prison

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The creation of the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s (NCAA) transfer portal, an online database where student-athletes submit their names with the hopes of transferring to athletic programs at other colleges and universities, has revolutionized the landscape of student-athlete recruitment and mobility. Like the portal for collegiate student-athletes; high school students will be entering their own version of a “transfer portal” at the conclusion of their time in secondary school. There are many students who will be graduating with a high school diploma and will thus qualify for federal student aid to help support their matriculation into a higher education institution.

Dr. Marcus BrightDr. Marcus BrightWhile much attention is rightly focused on these graduating high school students, it is essential not to overlook those who are leaving high school without a diploma. These individuals will also be going into a version of a "transfer portal," but without the necessary support and guidance, their prospects for success are severely limited. As statistics reveal, those without a high school diploma, especially young men, are at a significantly higher risk of ending up in the criminal justice system. Sixty-eight percent of all males in prison across the United States did not graduate from high school.

To address this critical issue, intentional pathways must be developed for non-graduating high school students to help them achieve key educational milestones and acquire marketable skills. One such initiative that holds promise is the U.S. Department of Education's Ability to Benefit (ATB) which offers an alternative route for students without a diploma to access federal student aid. According to the department’s website, students can qualify if they:

“1. Pass an independently administered, Department of Education approved ATB test.

2. Complete at least six credit hours, or the equivalent coursework (225 clock hours), that are applicable toward a degree or certificate offered by the postsecondary institution.

3. Participate in a State process approved by the Department.”

By offering structured pathways like this that combine academic advancement with skill development, we can steer these individuals away from routes that may be more susceptible to poverty and incarceration and towards pathways that are more likely to produce productivity and prosperity. As we approach the pivotal juncture where non-graduating students prepare to exit high school, it is imperative to provide them with tailored guidance and resources. 

Tapping into the potential of individuals without high school diplomas also requires a shift in perspective — a recognition of the inherent value they possess and a reimagining of educational pathways that resonate with their interests and aspirations. By emphasizing the value of their existing activities and highlighting the relevance of education to their future prospects, we can cultivate a sense of purpose and ignite their motivation to engage meaningfully in learning. 

By identifying what resonates with them and demonstrating how these pursuits can translate into valuable skills and opportunities, we can bridge the gap between their passions and practical outcomes. This process involves mapping out the knowledge, skills, and abilities required for various career trajectories, helping students see the tangible connections between their interests and future success. 

By proactively addressing the needs of non-graduating high school students and guiding them toward viable educational and economic opportunities, we can effectively block the transfer portal to prison and open doors to a brighter future for all individuals, regardless of their educational background.

Dr. Marcus Bright is an author and social impact professional.

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