KIPP and UTSA partner to boost college completion rates

ByMaria Cesar

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SAN ANTONIO — Looking to boost graduation rates, KIPP charter school officials have entered into a partnership with the University of Texas at San Antonio aimed at helping first-generation college students cross the finish line.

The partnership, starting with the 2014-15 school year, aims to have 60 percent of KIPP alumni going to UTSA graduate within six years. About 15 KIPP students will form a group on the campus, which school officials said will enable them to help each other acclimate to college life.

The group will also have a chance to connect with a KIPP college ambassador whose role will include helping students troubleshoot common college dilemmas, officials said.

UTSA is launching a separate graduation effort called First Year Experience, also intended to help keep students on track. Jude Valdez, vice president for community services at UTSA, said the program will be available to all incoming freshmen and include an “academic inquiry course” that gives students an understanding of what to expect in college as well as mentoring opportunities and an academic adviser.

KIPP San Antonio CEO Mark Larson said navigating basic issues — from financial aid questions to textbook purchases — can be easier for students whose parents have been through college and know the process.

“We know that something as small as $150 textbook (cost) can knock kids off the college path,” he said last week. “We have an obligation to make sure all our kids get to college, and we think a dramatic portion of that responsibility is on us.”

While the partnership is a first here, more than 43 other KIPP schools across the country have partnered with colleges and universities, said KIPP national spokesman Steve Mancini. Citing Pew Research Center statistics, he said only 33 percent of the nation’s 25- to 29-year-olds had finished college and completion rates for low-income students are even lower, about 10 percent.

For KIPP graduates, the rate is four times that, Mancini said. The national charter network’s website says about 86 percent of the students in its 141 schools in 20 states are considered low-income.

Larson said KIPP counselors keep in touch with college students as another way to ensure college completion. The university and KIPP will also collaborate on curriculum alignment, teacher preparation opportunities and summer programs.