MTSU partners with KIPP schools on student supports

ByAdam Tamburin

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Middle Tennessee State University on Tuesday kicked off a partnership with charter school systems in Nashville and Memphis that officials said will pull more underrepresented students onto campus and provide them with special supports.

The partnership will connect students throughout the K-12 KIPP Charter Schools system with MTSU programs from a young age. The university also pledged to accept at least 10 KIPP graduates a year and to connect them with special programming for first-generation college students.

KIPP already has similar partnerships with Vanderbilt University and more than 80 colleges across the country, but MTSU is the first of Tennessee’s public colleges to become a partner institution. During remarks at a signing ceremony Tuesday in Nashville, MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee called the agreement “historic and significant.”

As a group of seventh-graders watched, wearing MTSU T-shirts over their uniforms, McPhee pledged that the university was “here to provide the support to make your dreams come true.” McPhee said he would continue to check on the seventh-graders’ progress and offer his advice as they moved closer to college.

Leaders at KIPP tout the intensive support they offer to a student body that is largely black and low income. KIPP already has staff members who work with graduates after they transition to college to help them navigate early hurdles of higher education.

But Emily Blatter, who directs the college support programming at KIPP Nashville, said partnering with colleges adds an extra layer of support for students who tend to face more challenges during their college careers.

“While it’s great to have someone from your middle school experience or your high school experience helping you through college, we can’t do it alone,” Blatter said.

After signing the agreement, McPhee said MTSU would use “our vast resources as a major university to complement what they are doing.”

“I’ll be very disappointed if this just becomes a partnership on paper,” he said. “I would love to see students in this institution spend time on our campus, be invited to lectures. My goal is to spend more time on this campus. … I would love to come back and do lectures and do conversations with parents and students about the experiences of college life.”