But Taylor wound up applying to six colleges, including Delaware State University, which he probably will attend. His plan came together after he connected with an adviser from a nonprofit organization that has transformed the college prospects of many D.C. students.
The D.C. College Access Program,which sponsors a citywide network of advisers who help students with college admissions and financial aid, is a rare example of sustained success in the perennially troubled city school system. Principals and school officials say the program fills an important niche.
Program officials say their work in the past decade has contributed to a doubling of the college attendance rate for the city’s public schools, to 61 percent of high school graduates. That is near the national average of 69 percent. The estimated share of those students who finish college within five years has climbed from 15 to 40 percent.
Founded in 1999, the program is based on a comparatively simple innovation: placing a college adviser in every regular public high school and, since 2008, every charter high school. Today, DC-CAP is the biggest initiative in a patchwork of efforts to promote college attendance in D.C. public schools.
“It mobilized a lot of people to support the notion that we needed to increase college-going in D.C.,” said Argelia Rodriguez, the program’s president and chief executive.
The program was the brainchild of a group of civic and business leaders including Donald E. Graham, chairman of The Washington Post Co., who also heads the DC-CAP board. Executives from companies such as US Airways, Lockheed Martin, Marriott and Fannie Mae were among the founding group, organized by Lucio Noto, the former director and vice chairman for ExxonMobil.
Before DC-CAP, the college admissions scene in D.C. schools seemed skewed. Three elite high schools — Banneker, Wilson and the School Without Walls — had full-time college counselors, Rodriguez recalled. Wilson, in the most affluent part of town, had the system’s only SAT testing site. City schools did not track college attendance. A survey of principals found that about one-quarter of graduating seniors intended to go to college.
Program leaders sought to create a college-going culture. They placed advisers in six schools in the 1999-2000 academic year. That yielded a college enrollment rate of 44 percent in those schools. The next year, the program expanded to all public high schools, and college attendance topped 50 percent for the system as a whole. Rodriguez and her staff opened SAT testing sites around the District.