What grabbed my attention were the details and the brand names.

(Rachel Pugh)

There were no quotas. But there were numerical recruiting targets. There were promises of financial aid for those in need. There were pledges that specific college administrators would be responsible for ensuring the KIPP alumni succeed. There were signatures from college and university presidents.

Some of the institutions that agreed to these terms are among the nation’s most selective: Brown, Duke, Georgetown, U-Penn, to name a few.

It made me wonder how these deals would be perceived by students and educators who are not from KIPP schools. Would they think it unfair?

I asked this of Terry Cowdrey, vice president and dean of admissions and financial aid at Colby College, one of 20 partnering with KIPP. Colby is a selective liberal arts school in Maine.

Read on for her reply.

“My thinking goes like this: “As we work to build our class each year at Colby, we aspire to develop an applicant pool of talented students, with interests well-matched to our offerings. We try to identify students from across the country and around the world who have the academic ability and intellectual ambition to succeed and flourish at Colby. To do this we promote Colby through various websites and magazines, we communicate with thousands of school-based and community-based counselors, and we travel to visit high schools, attend college fairs, and conduct interviews. Of course, our alumni and our current students (and their parents) also promote Colby.

“In order to diversify our applicant pool, and thus, our student body, we try to develop new markets, especially those with talented students from underrepresented groups. Community-based organizations are one key to doing this as many students and parents who may never have heard of Colby will be willing to consider us if a trusted representative of a community-based organization can vouch for the kind of place we are.

“Becoming a KIPP Partner College took the notion of working with a community-based organization and working with school-based counselors to another level as our partnership status introduced us to the whole network of KIPP schools. KIPP Through College counselors welcomed me and other members of our staff to their schools because we had already made clear our respect for KIPP through our partnership.

“We are always looking for avenues like the KIPP Partnership where we might develop relationships. Our partnership with KIPP in no way prohibits us from establishing other similar partnerships, and, in fact, may help other organizations become interested in Colby because of this tangible representation of our interest in students like those served by KIPP schools. As I mentioned, Colby is also a Posse school with the Class of 2017 representing our twelfth Posse. Some of our peer institutions work with organizations like Questbridge or Center for Student Opportunity or College Horizons or the National Hispanic Institute. (We work with CSO and NHI and are beginning to work with CH next summer). Although the relationships with other organizations may not have the formality of the KIPP Partnership each of these relationships helps bring more bright, underrepresented, often low income, yet well-prepared and motivated students into the college pipeline. And at well-resourced selective colleges, like Colby, students are often able to receive full funding and additional opportunities through small classes and low student-faculty ratios. At Colby, for example, students will have their full financial need met with grant and campus employment; we do not package student loans as part of our financial aid policy. For some students, the net price at Colby is much less than the net price at a lower cost college.

“Also very important to us was that KIPP is not interested in simply matriculating students at colleges but is committed to supporting students through college. At Colby we are also focused on persistence and graduation, as well as student satisfaction with their experiences. We want to be cognizant of the particular challenges that first-generation, low-income students face on our campus so that we can address these challenges and work to provide better information, less bureaucracy, etc. In some cases, it is simply a lack of familiarity with the language of higher education that can prove to be a barrier for students--making negotiating college more difficult or at least more stressful. We want to work with our KIPP students to learn from them how we might improve processes and programs on campus to be a more welcoming, inclusive campus. It is clear from the four KIPP students we have currently enrolled that these are students who are leaders or who have the potential to become leaders.

“So I don’t see this as a zero sum game. It is true that as our applicant pool grows, both from new markets in the U.S. and from around the world, the competition for admission increases. Yet at the same time, as the campus is populated with students from diverse backgrounds who bring widely varying perspectives, every student benefits from the peer interaction and each of our graduates is more prepared to work and live in our increasingly complex and ‘flat’ world.”