Innovative Partnerships Are Key To The College Completion Crisis

By Richard Barth

One of the most challenging issues in my work has been how to think of innovative ways to increase college completion rates for our students. Despite the efforts of countless people in both K-12 and higher education, we are still not closing the college completion gap fast enough. In 2018, only 37% of students ages 25-29 had a bachelor’s degree, and if one digs deeper by race/ethnicity and income level, the numbers dwindle to 22% for African Americans, 21% for Latinx, and 11% for students from low-income families.

Through College, not Just to College

Our first responsibility is to ensure that our 31 KIPP high schools are providing all students with an academically excellent and identity-affirming education. Simultaneously, we have focused on ensuring that our high school juniors are preparing for the college application process just as affluent students across the country are doing. This means our students finish their junior year with a carefully crafted wish list of schools to which they’d like to apply and a strong draft of their college essay. When they come back for fall of senior year, they work with their KIPP Through College Advisor to narrow their list of schools from 15 to 9, decide if they will apply early to any one institution, and ensure they are on track with every aspect involved in applying and competing for financial aid.

We could have decided to focus solely on the factors over which we have control within the doors of our high schools, but through our efforts and experiences, we became convinced that we could do even better if we partnered directly with institutions of higher education. Today, KIPP has 97 partnerships with colleges of all selectivity levels across the country, and a third of our seniors each year now matriculate to a college partner. Our college counseling team works with our college partners to identify areas where we can each strengthen our support around college readiness, matriculation, and graduation – and commit to implement these strategies.

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