Tag Archives: college access

DC Public Schools Increased College Enrollment Rates in Five Years. Here’s How.

Between 2013 and 2018, DC Public Schools (DCPS) went from only 41% of its high school graduates enrolling in college to 55%. How was the district able to cross the threshold to help more than half of graduates enroll in college, and what can other districts learn from the strategies they implemented?

Kaya Henderson, Chancellor of DCPS from 2010-2016, believed deeply in the importance of supporting K-12 students on their path to postsecondary success. She decided the district needed to take a more active role in crafting the vision for postsecondary advising and connecting the efforts of the many college access organizations (CAOs) operating in the district.

As my colleague Lina Bankert writes in The 74 this week:

The district started by creating a small central team, with just two dedicated staffers who set districtwide aspirations for postsecondary success. Over time, the district created a school-based college and career coordinator position to work in tandem with the central team. The people in this role were charged with coordinating with the nearly 70 college access and success third-party programs that operate across the city. Their goal was to ensure that resources at the school level — counselors, afterschool programs and more — were coordinating well and not duplicating efforts. Importantly, this initiative started as a resource-limited, grant-funded pilot at three of the highest-need schools and was later expanded across district high schools, and then moved into the district’s budget based on its success.

Cover of "Equitable Postsecondary Advising Systems Expanding access to help close the degree divide" tip sheet for districts, by Bellwether Education Partners June 2020

DCPS is a great example of what can happen when a school district prioritizes postsecondary advising and takes an active role in ensuring students have the support they need. We profiled DCPS and many other districts, college access organizations (CAOs), and intermediary organizations in our latest report on postsecondary advising

Read the full report here or check out one of our simple summaries for funders, CAOs, or districts.

The Power of Partnerships: Supporting Districts in Postsecondary Success

As elevated in our recent report and tipsheet series, school districts across the country are beginning to be more proactive in supporting K-12 students to achieve postsecondary success.

But what happens if districts don’t have capacity to develop a strategic vision and then actually offer college advising support? In these cases, we’ve identified concrete roles that funders and college access organizations can play. With the support of these external partners, districts can accelerate their progress towards supporting all students on their paths to postsecondary success. Cover of "Equitable Postsecondary Advising Systems Expanding access to help close the degree divide" tip sheet for districts, by Bellwether Education Partners June 2020

KIPP*, a high-performing national charter network, has always supported its students on their journey to college. In 2008, KIPP launched “KIPP Through College” to provide more structured and intensive support for students to increase the likelihood of postsecondary success. The model helps students to decide what colleges are the best fit for them using a user-friendly online match tool that leverages data and logic to build a list of colleges and universities for a student to apply to. In addition, KIPP has defined a set of milestones to track and measure success (e.g., FAFSA completion). As a result: in 2018, 80% of KIPP graduates enrolled in college, compared to the national average of 66% and the low-income student average of 46%. 

Recognizing that KIPP had a successful approach, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation* provided a grant for KIPP to adapt their model for three urban districts who were eager to prioritize college advising: Miami-Dade County Public Schools, New York City Department of Education, and Newark Unified School District. 

KIPP helped the three districts set a vision with milestones, customized their “match and fit” framework and online tool, and conducted in-person training and virtual coaching to support implementation. Early results are promising, and uptake has been strong: all three districts adopted KIPP’s approach after the 18-month program. KIPP is expanding the program to 13 additional schools in New York and 9 additional schools in Miami, as well as offering a summer training for staff using KIPP’s approach.

We profiled KIPP, and other organizations, districts, and intermediaries doing great work to support students on their postsecondary journeys, in our recent study on the postsecondary support landscape. Read it here.

*Former client/funder of Bellwether. We maintained full editorial control of this post.

Choosing a College is Both Art and Science: An Introduction to “Match and Fit”

Over the coming months, high school seniors across the country will anxiously wait to hear which colleges have accepted them. And after all the hard work of applying comes another tough step: deciding where to go to college. 

How do young people decide where to go to college? Do they pick the most selective school, or do they prioritize the place where their friends are going? Do they stay close to home or get as far away as possible? Big school or small school? Urban or suburban? Public or private? Greek life or geek life

There are countless factors to weigh, which can make the college selection process feel overwhelming, particularly for students from low-income backgrounds and those who are the first in their family to attend college. As counselors, advisers, and mentors to young people, we need to build systems and processes that enable them to make informed postsecondary choices.   

Fortunately there’s a useful framework for considering postsecondary options that’s gaining popularity among high school counselors and frontline staff in college access programs: “match and fit.”

While there is no standard definition, practitioners generally agree on the following working definitions: 

  • Match: The degree to which a student’s academic credentials align with the selectivity of the college or university in which they enroll. Match encompasses the quantitative elements of choosing a postsecondary option; it is more science than art.   
  • Fit: A more nebulous concept that refers to how well a prospective student might mesh with an institution once on campus: socially, emotionally, financially, and otherwise. Fit encompasses the qualitative elements of choosing a postsecondary option; it is more art than science. 

Together, these concepts enable students, families, and college counselors to share a common language when talking about college. A student may technically “match” to a particular institution based on their academic credentials, but then decide that school is not a great “fit” given their desires and interests. Conversely, a student might have their heart set on a college — it may seem like a perfect “fit” — but it may turn out to be a poor “match” when the student’s GPA and test scores are considered.  

Importantly, these concepts can be used to support equity in access for underserved students. Here’s how: Continue reading

“Ambicultural” Latinx Students and Educational Equity: A Q&A With Tina Fernandez

When I think of someone who exemplifies the Bellwether mission, Tina Fernandez is an obvious choice. She’s been part of the Bellwether family, in many different capacities, since our founding.

A long-time friend (we were college roommates) and one of the only lawyers I knew, I reached out to Tina for advice when Bellwether filed for its nonprofit status back in 2007. She helped with our filing and served as a founding member, and later as chair, of Bellwether’s board of directors. In 2014 she left the board to join Bellwether full-time as a partner, where she co-led the launch of Bellwether’s talent management and organizational effectiveness services. (These services have since spun off into a new organization, Promise54.)

It was a bittersweet moment when Tina left Bellwether’s staff in 2015 to lead Achieve Atlanta, where she’s been serving as Executive Director ever since. In her role, she works to dramatically increase the number of Atlanta students completing post-secondary education. Luckily, she’s back on our board, and brings an invaluable perspective on the advisory work we do, the leaders we serve, and the problems in urban education we are trying to help solve. (She’s held a number of other impressive roles in the past, including law professor and classroom teacher — you can read more here.)

September is Hispanic Heritage Month, so the interview below touches on education efforts specific to Latinx communities, as well as broader lessons from her current role. I’m so glad I haven’t let Tina lose touch after all these years.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

When we were college roommates, I had not yet landed on education as my likely career. When did you know that you’d pursue a career in education? Can you remember a concrete moment or experience that showed you your future path?

I grew up in the wonderful Rio Grande Valley of Texas and attended a public school where over 90% of the student body was Latino/a. When I went away to college, I realized how inequitable our high school education had been; I was one of only a few Latino/a students on my campus.

So I knew from early on that I wanted to work with low-income youth. At college, I quickly sought out opportunities to work with kids who had similar backgrounds to mine. I joined CityStep my freshman year, an organization whose mission is to promote creative self-expression and mutual understanding through dance. I served as the executive director my last two years in college. For four years at CityStep, I also spent a substantial amount of time teaching dance and self-expression in 4th and 5th grade public school classrooms. Through this, I really developed a passion for youth development.

During my sophomore and junior year summers, I worked with an organization called Keylatch, a summer urban camp serving youth in Boston’s South End and Lower Roxbury. These experiences allowed me to develop relationships with the most wonderful, intelligent, and promise-filled kids and solidified my commitment to fighting for educational justice.

By my senior year, I decided to apply to Teach For America, an organization which was only two years old at the time. And the rest, as they say, is history. I’ve taken a couple of detours in my career, but I’ve always stayed connected to education and children’s rights.

Tell us a little bit about your work at Achieve Atlanta, and the biggest hurdles and most exciting opportunities your organization faces in achieving its mission. Continue reading