More on College Success -- and Struggle

I blogged recently about KIPP's college success rate. They found 33% of their early middle school grads had ultimately gotten college degrees. Compared to the national average, where 8% of kids from low-income families get college degrees. We should have some detailed numbers soon. My sense is our early MATCH cohorts have a 50% college grad rate. So we're in pretty much the same boat as KIPP.

In the coming years, schools like KIPP and MATCH will be taking many steps to get this number go up.

One puzzle is: how can a school best help its grads once in college?

Bob Hill is doing some pioneering work in this area. He was a founding teacher in our school. Now, after 11 years in the classroom, he took the initiative and proposed to changed his job...to create a new one, actually.

He's our new...well we haven't nailed the title just yet, but something like "College Success Director." Besides actually delivering help to our grads in college, he's trying to build a typology -- case studies of where kids fall off track. Here is one example.

•X just finished first year at State University. He wants to study engineering. •First Semester GPA = 2.9 •Second Semester GPA = 1.0 X failed 3 out of his 4 classes (1 math, 1 science, and 1 English).

Decent first term. Then disaster. So what happened? From Bob's report:

• X received tutoring during the first semester. During the second semester, X did not pursue any tutoring after he determined that his schedule did not match the tutors’ availability. •X was notified in May that he was being put on financial aid probation because his GPA was lower than 2.0. Consequently, his financial aid was put on hold. In order to appeal this decision, he needed to take several steps outlined in a letter sent by State U. As of July, he had not done the steps. •X did not tell his mom about the probation. He wanted to take care of the problem, then let his mom know.

This strikes me as a fairly classic case. Enter Mr. Hill. He writes:

•I drove X to State U to meet have meetings with his Engineering Advisor and the Financial Aid office. •We met with his Engineering Advisor who informed us that financial aid probation is a new federal requirement (presumably to have some accountability for the money being loaned to students). •X and the Advisor discussed his grades and what happened during the second semester. The Advisor asked if X had asked the manager of the tutoring center at State U to try to accommodate his schedule. X said no. •The Advisor completed an academic plan with X which requires him to meet with her periodically throughout the semester. He also has to maintain a minimum GPA of 2.0. X must check in with this Advisor initially during the first two weeks of school in September. •The Advisor also helped X sign up for his courses for the fall semester. X had partially signed up for classes, but had not met with anyone to discuss his choices for the fall semester. With the Advisor, X signed up for 4 classes. Three of these classes will be repeat classes for the classes he failed in the previous Spring semester. •We then walked the paperwork and plan we had just completed to the financial aid office. The clerk said it would take two weeks until the determination was reached (although the Academic Advisor said that the approval for the appeal is pretty much a done deal). •We (X, the Advisor, and me) agreed that X should continue the tutoring he was receiving from MATCH this summer, thanks to my colleague Christie. X will work with the tutor on previewing the course materials for the classes he failed throughout the summer. •X and I visited the ACCESS center at State U. This is specifically geared to help Special Ed students (although anyone can use the resource). X had been a special needs student in our school. My colleague Gina alerted us to this resource. •X opted-in for my college coaching services (I offer them the choice, and make sure they know it's okay to decline). We spent about six quality hours together, so we covered a lot about what this would involve.

My takeaways:

1. We can and should teach kids how to be more aggressive in utilizing college resources. That's certainly a big part of the "how we help kids once in college" puzzle.

2. Meanwhile, back here on Comm Ave, we could raise our academic standards to align better with college academic standards. This is particularly true for the lower-performing students.

a. Perhaps we should build a file of college level final exams from State U. That would help our teachers and tutors to raise the bar.

b. The challenge here, of course, is our academic expectations are already much higher than nearby schools. That's the #1 reason our kids cite if they choose to return to district schools. If we raise standards even higher, this could lead to increased high school attrition, as our struggling students might transfer.

Our teachers would rightly want to know: Which is the greater of the 2 goals. To maximize the students who get our diploma/minimize attrition? Or to maximize the degree to which earning a MATCH diploma legitimately means "fully college ready"? We hate to acknowledge that these goals are sometimes competing. But they are.

c. Transparency of the link between tough high school academics and likely college success.

It'd be easier for us or KIPP or whatever to hold students if the college success info were transparent. For example, imagine an 11th grade student tells a teacher "I want to transfer to Nearby High. This school is too hard." Or even: "If you fail me for the year, maybe I deserve it, but I'm going to transfer. I talked to Nearby High and they said they'd automatically move me to the next grade."

It would help keep the student if our teacher could say: "But as you know, Nearby High has an 8% ultimate college success rate. Ours is 4x or 5x or 6x or 7x that. If you do the hard work now, it'll help you in a couple years. I'm not saying it's the easy road. But it's a road that will help you get to where you want to go."

Massachusetts published a number one time for district schools, about 5 years ago, which was every high school's "State College Success Rate." But somehow quickly hid it away again.

3. Bob taught every single kid MATCH currently has in college. So may have a "relationship advantage" in having tougher conversations with kids about shaping up. I think X got lucky in having Bob in his new gig. Maybe it'll even be life-changing lucky, who knows.