One third of KIPP’s middle-school graduates go on to complete a bachelor’s degree. That’s a tad higher than the national average and much higher than the average for the low-income black and Hispanic students that KIPP educates. But it’s much lower than KIPP’s goal. KIPP Foundation CEO Richard Barth tells Rick Hess what the 99-school network is doing to meet the college completion challenge.
The number one thing is academic rigor. We’ve committed to going kindergarten through twelfth grade in KIPP schools across the country. The original cohorts that we just [reported upon] only got fifth through eighth grade. So [we’re going to] start with our kids earlier and stay with them longer. The second thing is we’ve got to do a much better job of finding the right match when it comes to college. We are sending too many of our kids off to campuses that have low graduation rates. . . . one of the simplest and clearest things we can do is to form partnerships with colleges that are doing a better job of not just taking kids, but seeing that they finish. We also think we can do a better job of making sure our KIPPsters are better aware of the financial costs of college and are preparing for that. It is pretty clear that as the original KIPPsters went off to high school, they weren’t sure what it was going to take from a financial standpoint to get to college. We’re piloting a match savings program, so for every dollar a family commits, they can get a match dollar.
KIPP is partnering with the University of Chicago on a financial literacy program to help families plan for college costs.
The network also hopes to start 25 pilot programs on college campuses to help first-generation students cope with choosing the right classes, financial aid and other demands. In addition, KIPP will strengthen counseling to encourage more KIPPsters to choose the same colleges, so they can support each other.
KIPP, which started as fifth-to-eighth-grade middle schools, now has 15 high schools and is building more. “We sent a lot of our kids to high schools that we thought would keep the progress going and they didn’t.”
KIPP is rethinking its academic program, Barth says.
As we’ve gotten into the high school business ourselves, there’s been a really big push on writing, which we think is a proxy for critical thinking skills. And we’re trying to learn how to let go of the supports and scaffolding [so as] to let kids be more responsible for decisions on their own. Our middle schools are highly structured, and as we’ve gotten into high schools, we’ve realized we have to prepare them for a world with far less structure. We’ve got to get better at that.
The difference between “to college” and “through college” is huge, Barth says.
This is a challenge facing all the college-prep charter schools that focus on low-income, minority, first-to-college students. It’s easy to get graduates into college because so many aren’t selective. It’s very hard to get students to a college degree. In addition to strong academic preparation, they good work habits and time management skills, financial literacy and the kind of support that college-educated parents can provide to their kids. The school in my book and other college-prep charters now ask their counselors to work with graduates (usually via e-mail) to help them cope with college challenges.