The University of Pennsylvania last year had seven undergraduates who hailed from a national charter-school network that educates children from families of modest means.
This school year, the Ivy League university will enroll 13 more graduates of the KIPP network, including one from the District.
The expansion is the result of an unusual tactic that the network once known as the Knowledge Is Power Program has developed to help its students get into and through college. Starting in October 2011, KIPP and college leaders signed pledges to create recruiting pipelines and campus support systems for students who often lack the higher-education connections routinely found in affluent communities.
The agreements that KIPP has signed with 39 colleges and universities contain no admission guarantees. But they do, in many cases, set recruiting goals, such as at Penn, which pledged to recruit 12 to 15 KIPP graduates each year.
Georgetown University, which announced a KIPP agreement in November, said it aims to actively recruit eight to 12 KIPP graduates a year. Its results for the incoming class: Four admitted, two enrolled.
This year, Syracuse and Trinity Washington universities also will enroll at least eight KIPP graduates each, Franklin & Marshall College six and Davidson College four. Colby College and Duke University will enroll two each. San Jose State University will enroll 34, KIPP said, well exceeding its recruiting target of 15 to 20.
The KIPP effort is one of many that works to help disadvantaged students get into college at a time when experts say too few have access. Among others are nonprofit programs such as QuestBridge and the Posse Foundation. But it is notable that KIPP has obtained written recruiting agreements from numerous colleges, including some of the most prestigious.
“We’re excited to see life breathed into our college partnerships,” said KIPP co-founder Mike Feinberg, a graduate of Penn. “KIPP students are applying, getting accepted, and matriculating to our partner colleges and universities. Next steps will be to figure out how to increase not just acceptances but matriculation, and also how to ensure we are maximizing our partnerships to help our alumni stay in college and graduate.”
The alumni are defined as students who went through a KIPP middle school or graduated from a KIPP high school. The network, with 41,000 students, operates far more middle schools than high schools, but it tracks and advises former middle school students as they move through high school.
Ninety-five percent of KIPP students are black or Latino, and more than 86 percent come from low-income families.
Studies show students in poverty have a more difficult time getting into selective colleges. Often, they don’t apply even if their transcripts are strong.
“There is a huge need,” said Lindsey E. Malcom-Piqueux, an assistant professor of higher education administration at George Washington University. “Colleges are even more challenged to get economic diversity than racial and ethnic diversity.”
A key issue is financial aid — “and not just offering the aid,” Malcom-Piqueux said, “but helping the students make sense of paying for college.”
Jennifer Jones, 17, a 2013 graduate of KIPP DC College Preparatory Academy who grew up in Southeast Washington, is headed to Davidson, in North Carolina. She plans to major in mathematics, with a concentration in education. Davidson, she said, gave her a substantial scholarship and introduced her to the college’s president. But it wasn’t just about KIPP and Davidson.
“My mom influenced me to go to college,” Jones said. “She’s a single mother of two. From the time I was born until now, all I knew was college. She wanted to see us do better.”
Chante Coleman, 18, who went to high school with Jones, is a single mother herself, with a 3-year-old daughter. She has a scholarship to go to Trinity Washington, a Catholic women’s college in Northeast. “It will support women with children,” Coleman said. “It’s a very successful school. It was the best fit for me.”
KIPP, known for long school days, an extended school year and a “no excuses” philosophy, is prominent in school-reform circles and has many allies among government and philanthropic leaders. Skeptics say that gives KIPP a leg up — financially and otherwise — on other public schools that serve similar students.
KIPP operates several schools in the District. (Washington Post Co. Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Donald E. Graham is on the KIPP DC board of trustees.) Plenty of other D.C. public schools also push aggressively to connect their students with selective colleges, even without signed recruiting agreements.
Caroline Hoxby, a Stanford University economist, said traditional recruiting methods miss “the vast majority” of high-achieving students from poor families. She said selective colleges must do far more to connect with these students, providing them with customized information about applications and financial aid. The type of partnerships that KIPP promotes, she said, are worthy but “very insufficient.”
Eric J. Furda, Penn’s dean of admissions, said he came to KIPP DC College Prep last fall for the Anacostia school’s first college recruiting fair. Of 31,282 applicants for its entering class, Furda said, Penn admitted 3,829, including 15 KIPP graduates. One was a former KIPP DC middle school student who graduated from the selective Benjamin Banneker Academic High School in the city’s school system.
“It’s the outreach aspect here that’s so important,” Furda said. “The KIPP students deserve the spot in this class just like any other student. It really is about educational opportunity.”