When Graduating Isn’t Enough: New KIPP Scholarship Will Help First-Gen College Grads At Risk of Being ‘Underemployed’

By Richard Whitmire

The KIPP charter school network’s announcement of another scholarship program designed to launch their alumni into successful careers — and avoid the underemployment problems of years past — represents the latest mile marker along a steep learning curve.

The nation’s largest group of K-12 charter schools said last week that the Ruth and Norman Rales Scholars Program will provide four years of mentoring, summer internship assistance, financial literacy training, networking advice and funding to defray college costs — supports valued at $60,000 per student. The grant covers 50 students a year, up to 250 students over five years.

For KIPP students such as Harlem-raised Airam Cruz, who landed a spot in a prestigious high school as a result of attending a KIPP middle school, and then entered Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, these networking-assist scholarships mean everything.

Cruz, who was chosen for a similar Dave Goldberg Scholarship Program (which inspired the Rales) got a summer internship at a computer gaming company as a result of meeting the company’s chief executive officer at a 2018 Silicon Valley dinner hosted at the house of Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg Goldberg is her late husband.

Also as part of that Goldberg scholarship program: Cruz, now 21, had his own mentor for four years of college, former Samsung Chief Innovation Officer David Eun. “I texted him almost any day about anything. Life advice, school advice.”

What’s truly newsworthy about the Goldberg and Rales scholarship programs is why they are needed in the first place.

Two decades ago, KIPP and other top-performing charter networks started out with a simple promise to parents: Send your sons and daughters to our schools and we will get them enrolled in college. As years passed, however, every charter network found out that enrolling in college wasn’t the same as graduating.

As early as 2009, KIPP leaders realized their college-going students were falling short on actually graduating, and in April 2011 released a starkly worded College Completion report revealing that only 33 percent of its KIPP middle school students were graduating from four-year colleges within six years.

While that rate was three times the national graduation rate for low-income, minority students, it was far below what KIPP had predicted: a graduation success rate of 75 percent. That was a wake-up call for KIPP, which launched aggressive changes including expanding its network to opening elementary and high schools to give students more time on task with KIPP teachers and counselors.

While those changes, and similar ones at other college-focused charter networks around the country, succeeded in boosting college graduation rates, KIPP and others soon discovered yet another unpleasant reality: simply earning a college degree wasn’t enough. Too often, their graduates settled for jobs that fell short of the kinds of professional opportunities landed by white and Asian college graduates.

That amounts to underemployment, explains Tevera Stith, senior director for National Alumni Impact at KIPP.

“We see more and more students not having access to proper networking who then struggle to get the kind of work experience needed to land the perfect first job that will propel their career,” said Stith For college students coming from middle- and upper-income families, those internships and first-job connections often come from family connections.

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