Colleges agree to recruit KIPP alumni


Trinity President Patricia McGuire, left, and communications student Yasmeen Newman, 20. Newman attended the KIPP D.C. Key middle school and then the private McLean School in Potomac. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)
November 26, 2012

Twenty colleges and universities, including some of the nation’s most prestigious, have pledged in the past year to recruit more students from a prominent charter school network that focuses on educating the rural and urban poor.

The latest are Georgetown and Trinity Washington universities in the District. On Tuesday, they plan to announce partnerships with the charter network called the Knowledge Is Power Program, or KIPP, in an effort to help more disadvantaged students get college degrees.

The signed pledges, unusual in the competitive world of college admissions, set recruiting targets and establish a detailed framework for cooperation, seeking to create a pipeline to college for KIPP’s mostly black and Latino students. There are no admissions guarantees or enrollment quotas for KIPP alumni, but the pacts suggest one path colleges could use to diversify at a time when racial affirmative action has come under question in a case before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The agreements lay out an explicit quid pro quo: KIPP will promote the 20 colleges among its 39,000 students nationwide, and in exchange, the colleges will identify and recruit top KIPP students, help those who have financial need and ensure those who enroll stay on track to graduate.

Georgetown, in its agreement, pledged to “actively recruit 8 to 12 KIPP students per year.”Trinity Washington said it would “recruit, admit and enroll a cohort of KIPP alumni, targeting at least 10 students per year.” The universities now each have three students from KIPP.

Schools with similar KIPP agreements include Colby, Davidson, Spelman and Franklin & Marshall colleges; the universities of Pennsylvania and Texas at Austin; and Brown, Duke, Tulane and Syracuse universities.

“KIPP is a program we’ve long admired,” said Georgetown President John J. DeGioia. He said many Georgetown graduates work in KIPP schools. In recent years, the university has hosted summer academic programs for high school students from KIPP and the Cristo Rey urban Catholic education network.

Georgetown, the nation’s oldest Catholic university, also has a partnership with Cristo Rey schools. Formalizing one with KIPP, DeGioia said, was “a natural.”

But DeGioia said KIPP alumni would have no “leg up” in admissions at a university that accepts 18 percent of applicants. “If we are not certain they can be successful and competitive with the very best students we are admitting,” he said, “it would be dishonorable to bring them in.”

Daniel Porterfield, president of Franklin & Marshall, said his college hoped through such pacts to “identify extraordinary talent from the full American mosaic.”

KIPP officials say the pacts were inspired in part by initiatives such as the Posse Foundation, which seeks to place disadvantaged students in selective colleges.

KIPP, with 125 schools in 20 states and the District of Columbia, has forged a national brand by offering longer school days and years and a credo advocates sum up as “work hard, be nice.” The network says it takes “no shortcuts” in pursuing academic goals and makes “no excuses” for failure.

Many of its schools have prospered in neighborhoods beset by social and educational troubles. The D.C. Public Charter School Board rates KIPP schools in the city’s top tier. (Washington Post Co. Chairman and Chief Executive Donald E. Graham is a member of the KIPP D.C. board of trustees.)

Skeptics say KIPP benefits substantially from private donations and that its schools do not serve as many students with disabilities or language barriers as other public schools. It is difficult to compare charter schools such as KIPP’s, which often attract motivated parents, to counterparts in traditional school systems. But there is no doubt that the network is viewed as a major force in urban school reform and has won broad support from federal education officials and influential philanthropists.

Linking the KIPP brand to major colleges will no doubt help its schools compete in the public education marketplace. D.C. parents weighing their school choices could be drawn to charter schools that advertise a college connection.

Many public schools, regular and charter, have strong relations with colleges that are not formalized in a signed memorandum of understanding. Alexandra Pardo, executive director of the Thurgood Marshall Academy, said graduates from that D.C. charter school have found success at the University of Vermont and George Mason University, among others. The KIPP pacts, Pardo said, are “a strategy worth exploring.”

KIPP co-founder Mike Feinberg said he hopes others follow suit. “It would be a great problem for the country to have,” he said, if more high schools contacted colleges and said: “Wait a minute. Where's our slice of this pie? How about us?” Feinberg, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, reached out to that Ivy League school to strike a partnership.

Eric J. Furda, dean of admissions at Pennsylvania, said the university will target 12 to 15 KIPP students a year as prospects. Penn now has seven students who are KIPP alumni, according to a KIPP tally.

“Yes, we’re going to enroll students,” Furda said. “But more broadly defined, Penn’s overall outreach efforts will be elevated through our relationship with KIPP.” He said it is “a national program with anchors in important geographic and demographic areas,” such as Texas.

About 230 KIPP alumni — graduates of KIPP high schools as well as students who went through a KIPP middle school but graduated from a non-KIPP high school — attend the 20 partner colleges. The partnerships aim to recruit 225 to 275 KIPP alumni to the 20 colleges in the coming year.

Under the agreements, colleges will track the progress of KIPP alumni and provide mentoring and other support.

At Trinity Washington, a Catholic university serving mainly women, Yasmeen Newman, 20, is a communications student who attended KIPP’s D.C. KEY Academy, a middle school. Newman, from Southeast Washington, said she is the youngest of eight children in a family of modest means. KIPP, she said, “opens the eyes of young kids and lets them know college is a possibility for them.”

Jazmin Wright, 21, another Trinity student with KIPP D.C. KEY roots, also credited those middle school teachers.

“I just have them in my head,” Wright said. “I’m going to graduate. It’s embedded in me. They encoded it in my brain.”

She said she has a 3-year-old daughter, Jayla, who will start in a KIPP preschool program in January.

Trinity President Patricia McGuire, whose school draws a large number of D.C. students, said she hopes the partnership will expand Trinity’s applicant pool. “Being part of the KIPP network validates us and opens up some new markets that we might not reach ourselves,” she said.

McGuire said she also is a fan of the “work hard, be nice” slogan.

“That’s a great philosophy,” McGuire said. “If we could have a few of those T-shirts walking around campus, that wouldn’t hurt anybody.”

A former Post education editor, Nick writes about college from the perspective of a father of three who will soon be buried in tuition bills.
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