ABACUS: Advancing Post-secondary Access

Learn more about the research around ABACUS

Presentation: ABACUS at the mid-way mark
Getting there from here
Executive summary
Full report

The origins of ABACUS

After more than a decade of convening a city-wide collaborative effort to reduce poverty in Hamilton, Hamilton Community Foundation recognized that increasing access to post-secondary education has the next logical step to improving our city’s prosperity.

Research conducted by HCF between 2013-2016 informed this direction; we have identified the key barriers to post-secondary education, the populations who would most benefit from programming, the common elements of successful programs and the critical intervention points to ensure all efforts generate the most impact.

With this knowledge, our goal was:

To improve high school graduation rates and access to post-secondary education, including trades and apprenticeship opportunities, by focusing our efforts on Grades 6, 7, 8 and supporting the transition into high school.

What makes this approach different?
Part of what makes ABACUS unique is a focus on early intervention that gets students and their parents thinking about life after high school – during their middle school years. These pivotal years are characterized by significant developmental changes, yet have been among the least supported in terms of focused community programs and other education strategies.

ABACUS was launched on four pillars of successful intervention programs:

Academic upskilling. Academic achievement includes those programs/initiatives that support youth to obtain the necessary grades, skills, and self-confidence to succeed in middle school and move forward in their high school and post-secondary education.  Examples include afterschool homework or academic programs, computer literacy, aspirational and experiential learning, tutoring programs.

Mentoring.  There are a variety of forms of support and counseling including adult mentoring, access to community role models, peer mentoring, peer group activities and parental engagement. Examples include afterschool recreation programs; programs using the arts as a tool for learning; social skills programs; parental engagement strategies; and one on one mentoring programs.

Goal setting.  Students who are making certain decisions about their future are helped by easy access to information about their choices and the corresponding requirements.  This pillar includes parental education initiatives, financial literacy, information workshops for parents and youth, support in mapping choices related to high school courses and long-term career goals, and eventually applying for student financial assistance and post-secondary education.

Examples include programs that raise aspirations for youth to attend post-secondary education such as academic summer programming, time spent on college/university campuses and career planning.

Incentives.  Financial components are often an important incentive to students to participate in a program that can lead to post-secondary enrollment.  Examples include subsidies and incentives provided through supports such as bus tickets, meal programs, or program materials, as well as incentives which reward behavior, marks, etc.


At its outset, ABACUS’ three components were:

Since Grad Track was launched in 2016, Hamilton Community Foundation has supported systems change initiatives based on what it learned from the program. This includes pilots aimed at: 

(1) influencing education streaming policies in high priority schools;
(2) promoting awareness of compassion fatigue in education and innovative approaches to address it
(3) demonstrating the impact of experiential summer education and engagement programming.

In addition to integrating Grad Track into HCF’s systems change advocacy, the demonstrated impact of the Grad Track model, has influenced the development of other Hamilton school board programs including HWCDSB’s Student Transition Teachers in 2018 and HWDSB’s Graduation Coach Program Supporting Black Students.

How ABACUS responded to the COVID-19 pandemic
Since its inception, ABACUS has aimed to support the most pressing student needs to ensure students engage with and see themselves in their own education. In collaboration with both Hamilton school boards and our community partners, ABACUS continues to respond and evolve according to the changing needs of students during the pandemic. This includes funding from basic needs such as food and learning supplies to engagement needs for online, in classroom and after school education and enrichment (e.g., transportation, mentorship, homework help, and experiential learning opportunities).