How to graduate from college

Here is the recipe of high-impact levers for how to help students become first-generation college grads:

  1. Academic Rigor & Curriculum (Can they hang in there in their classes?)
  2. Social Skills (Do they have grit, self-discipline, tenacity, relationship-building, bureaucracy-navigating, networking, etc. skills?)
  3. College Matching (Are they pursuing and picking a school that is right from them?)
  4. Financial Aid (Can they pay for it all the way to graduation?)

FSG Social Impact Advisors developed this list and it makes sense. Commencement was last week, and soon my former 12th-graders will scatter across the country as eager-eyed college freshmen. I can’t stop thinking nervously about whether they have these four tentpoles in place.

The data is terrifying. In 2006, a blockbuster report on Washington, D.C. students revealed:

  • 9 percent of D.C. high school freshmen graduate college within 5 years of graduating high school (compared to 23 percent nationally)
  • In Wards 7 and 8, only 5 percent of high school freshmen finish college within 5 years of graduating high school— and most of those are girls.

My school delivers numbers far above these horrendous averages, but we’re still nowhere near satisfied with many kids not finishing college. These stats were called to mind when I read Rick Hess’s interview with Richard Barth, CEO and President of the KIPP Foundation.

KIPP recently released a report stating: “As of March 2011, 33 percent of students who completed a KIPP middle school ten or more years ago have graduated from a four-year college… KIPP’s college completion rate is four times the rate of comparable students from low-income communities across the country.”

Hess asked Barth how to raise those numbers. Barth’s response echoes the findings I listed above:

“The number one thing is academic rigor. We’ve committed to going kindergarten through twelfth grade in KIPP schools across the country. The original cohorts that we just [reported upon] only got fifth through eighth grade. So [we’re going to] start with our kids earlier and stay with them longer. The second thing is we’ve got to do a much better job of finding the right match when it comes to college. We are sending too many of our kids off to campuses that have low graduation rates. We know that even at each level of selectivity, there are schools that have a much higher graduation rate than others. So we’re convinced that one of the simplest and clearest things we can do is to form partnerships with colleges that are doing a better job of not just taking kids, but seeing that they finish. We also think we can do a better job of making sure our KIPPsters are better aware of the financial costs of college and are preparing for that.”

Barth is right. FSG is right. These four areas are where K-12 must focus.

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