KIPP, Dillard partner to keep students in college

ByDanielle Dreilinger

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Dillard University plans Friday to announce it will guarantee full financial support for 10 students from KIPP charter schools each year, as part of KIPP’s effort to ensure its alumni finish college. The initiative will quadruple the number of KIPP alumni at Dillard in four years.

Like other “college prep” charters, KIPP, short for Knowledge Is Power Program, instills the goal of college graduation in its students from Day 1. College banners hang in its schools’ halls, home rooms are named for teachers’ alma maters and students refer to themselves as, for instance, “the Class of 2024,” for the year they will enter college.

But statistically speaking, these eager students face challenges in earning that degree. Around the United States, almost all KIPP students have grown up in poverty. And only 11 percent of students from the lowest quarter of the U.S. income range have earned a college degree by their late 20s, according to Census data provided by KIPP. The national average is 31 percent.

KIPP alumni have outperformed both the norm for their income bracket and the national average: 40 percent have earned a bachelor’s degree, 4 percent an associate’s degree. Twelve percent are still in college. Among wealthy students, 75 percent earn a college degree by their late 20s, and that’s KIPP’s goal for its students.

“For us this is all about college completion,” KIPP New Orleans spokesman Jonathan Bertsch said.

The New Orleans branch of KIPP opened its first middle school in 2005 and now runs nine schools, including one high school that opened in fall 2010. That means college entrance is picking up. As of this fall, 45 New Orleans alumni are in college. The organization expects 10 times that number in just two years.

In order for them to make it through, they need a range of support: counseling, KIPP cohorts at individual colleges and money.

There’s now a full-time KIPP New Orleans staff member who keeps in touch with the college students to ensure they’re getting support and financial aid. In addition, KIPP Renaissance High School has its own college counselor to help students write their admissions essays and apply for scholarships, among other tasks.

KIPP administrators consider college partnerships key as well. They’ve created about 30 so far, with institutions ranging from Ivy League universities to historically black colleges and universities such as Spelman in Atlanta to state schools such as the University of Texas.

At Tulane, in a partnership announced in 2011, the university agreed to set aside 10 slots for KIPP alumni each year. In return, KIPP opened its classrooms to students in Tulane’s teacher certification program. Bertsch said they had not fully reached their enrollment targets but that the KIPP-Tulane relationship has continued to grow.

The Dillard program details are still being worked out. But there likely will be a mentoring group, and the university will actively recruit KIPP students with an enrollment target of 10 per year. Participants may come from any KIPP school in the country, not just New Orleans.

Nine KIPP alumni are attending Dillard now, from New Orleans, Houston, the San Francisco Bay area and Chicago, and almost 30 have already been accepted for next fall, according to data provided by KIPP. Bertsch estimates that 20 to 25 New Orleans KIPP alumni will apply to Dillard this cycle.

Dillard also is looking to mesh the new program with its existing eighth-grade initiative, in which it starts working with students to prepare them with rigorous work for college It also provides mentors to help ease the way.

All the college participants will have the academic credentials. Their biggest difficulty will be financing their education. Tuition and fees for a student living on the Dillard campus cost about $27,000.

Dillard’s financial support could include waiving application fees, providing work-study positions and ensuring that external scholarships do not reduce the amount of money the students receive from the university. If any gap remains, Dillard will meet it.

David Page, Dillard’s vice president for enrollment management, said he’s optimistic. “Because of the already-established programs around the country, I don’t know why Dillard’s entering into a partnership with them will be any less profitable and fruitful,” he said. “I know we have something to offer these students.”

KIPP Renaissance senior Troy Green is looking forward to college, where he wants to study dance and computer science. If all goes well, he’ll be the first in his family to attend a four-year school. He has already applied to nine, including Xavier, Louisiana Tech, Grambling State — and Dillard.

He’s familiar with Dillard. In fact, he said he goes every week to train in the college gymnasium and has friends on the basketball team.

Louisiana State University is his top choice, then Xavier, then Nicholls State. But the financial guarantee and support promised by the KIPP-Dillard partnership “really sounds good,” Green said. “I think it could go really far in bringing me to Dillard.”