MADISON, Wis. — New data showed that a program to get more kids opportunities to go to college is working.

What You Need To Know

  • AVID/TOPS is a partnership between Madison public schools and the local Boys & Girls Clubs

  • A recent third-party evaluation by a specialty UW office found it's making a difference for students

  • The goal is to get kids in the "academic middle" the resources they need to graduate and go to college

AVID is a nationwide program that first started in a San Diego school in 1980. Its mission is to give students in the “academic middle” the resources they need to succeed through high school and into college.  

In Madison, AVID/TOPS is a partnership between the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) and Boys and Girls Clubs of Dane County (BGCDC). It began in 2007. It functions as an elective class students have every day.

A new evaluation from the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Wisconsin Evaluation Collaborative found that the program is working.

“AVID/TOPS students are 7.83 points more likely to persist in college,” said Cindy Green, MMSD assistant superintendent of teaching and learning. “They are 6.4 more points likely to graduate college in 6 years or less.”

Numbers in that category can be even higher for English learners and students of color.

The program is paid for by fundraising through the Boys & Girls Clubs.

“We’ve invested about 1.8-1.9 million in this program every year,” said BGCDC CEO Michael Johnson. “Every year, I’ve gotten to see hundreds and hundreds of our kids graduate from our school system and go to college.”

Junior Mariam Joof-Jarboh said she hopes to be one of those students.

“After East, I’m looking to go to a four-year college, hopefully to study criminal justice and law,” Joof-Jarboh said. “I want to be a criminal justice lawyer.”

While the program supports students of all ethnicities, it’s tough to ignore the glaring truth in Wisconsin: We have the worst opportunity gap between white students and Black students.

According to the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics, on average throughout the country, graduation rates are 9% higher for white students than Black students. In Wisconsin, that gap is 23%. It’s the widest gap in the nation.

The AVID/TOPS program gives students practical organizational knowledge, requires college visits, provides tutors, and creates bonds between students and trusted adults who can help them reach their goals.

“High school is already hard, especially this year, junior year. This is definitely gonna be one of my most stressful years,” Joof-Jarboh said. “But with AVID, I know I’m gonna be able to conquer it.”

Johnson said instead of fundraising every year, he’d love to see an endowment through the Madison Community Foundation. He said that way, the program will be guaranteed to continue no matter what.