A&M-Kingsville joins list of prestigious campuses agreeing to recruit students from a nationally recognized charter school

By Rhiannon Meyers

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Texas A&M University-Kingsville is the latest university to sign an agreement pledging to seek out and recruit students from a nationally recognized charter school system.

The charter system called the Knowledge is Power Program, or KIPP, which has attracted national attention for its successes with low-income students, has been teaming up with universities nationwide to create a pipeline for its graduates, many of whom are the first in their families to attend college.

The arrangement with A&M-Kingsville is somewhat unusual for KIPP, which has largely worked with more urban universities in regions where KIPP schools already are established, including Rice University in Houston and Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

The nearest KIPP school is in San Antonio, about 150 miles away.

But KIPP founder Mike Feinberg said the partnership with A&M-Kingsville was a natural given their shared goals to educate underserved low-income and minority students.

“The fact that they have over the last several years been incredibly persistent, passionate and focused on closing the achievement gap for first-generation college kids makes it a terrific match,” Feinberg said. “When we’re looking for our partners, we are not looking within 10 miles of our front door.”

A&M-Kingsville fills a niche for charter school, offering another option for KIPP alumni who want to attend college in a rural setting at a predominantly Hispanic university, President Steven Tallant said.

The university is the sixth Hispanic-serving institution in Texas to partner with KIPP, a sign of the system’s efforts to help first-generation college students who face a greater risk of dropping out find a college that keeps them engaged and enrolled.

“If you are to go to a place and no one looks like you and no one talks like you and no one acts like you, that’s a pretty big challenge to overcome,” Feinberg said. “If you can wind up in a place in the middle, where you can meet diverse kids from diverse backgrounds, and you also wind up seeing plenty of other kids who do look like you and sound like you, it helps first generation kids stick with it and complete.”

Under the arrangement, the university agrees to recruit seven KIPP graduates for the 2013-14 academic year and 10 students each year afterward. The university also will host 10 KIPP high school students for summer programs.

The partnership also allows A&M-Kingsville to expand its recruitment into areas of the state such as Dallas/Fort Worth and Austin where the university hasn’t had a presence before, Tallant said.

The successes of seven KIPP graduates already enrolled at the university attracted the charter system’s attention, spokesman Steve Mancini said.

“They are getting a great education They are thriving. They are learning,” he said. “That’s what we look for: Where are KIPP kids succeeding already.”

With this arrangement, A&M-Kingsville joins a prestigious list of about 50 U.S. universities, including some Ivy League campuses and elite private liberal arts schools, which agreed to recruit KIPP students.

There are 10 in Texas.

The charter school system began forging the partnerships to bolster its college graduation rate of KIPP’s mission to guide students to and through college.

About 42 percent of students earn a 4-year college degree within 10 years of finishing eighth-grade at a KIPP middle school. That graduation rate is four times higher than the average for low-income students nationwide, but still 30 points below the rate for wealthy students. The charter school aims to close that gap.

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