Our To & Through College program aims to address three critical needs: helping our high school students, many of whom will be the first in their family to attend college, navigate their way “To” the college where they have the best chance of succeeding; providing our graduates with the support they need to enroll in college after being accepted; and continuing to support and stay in touch with our alumni as they make their way “Through” college
Nationally, only 11% of students in the lowest economic quartile obtain a Bachelor’s degree by age 24. Our long-term goal is that 75% of our graduates will attain a degree by their mid-twenties.
Building College-Going cultures
Our schools expose students to college early and help them see college as an attainable and desirable goal. From the moment they enter our schools, it is made clear to our students in multiple ways that college is within reach for them. They go on visits to colleges, regularly review college options with their counselors, and participate in various events and rituals designed to encourage and celebrate their efforts in preparing for college.
College Counselor Community of Practice
Each of our network high schools has a college counselor. We bring this community of college counselors together on a regular basis to share practices, provide updates as they emerge from the field, engage in group learning, and puzzle through individual student cases.
Annual College March
Each year, seniors from across our network schools march their college application materials to their local post office or mail truck as members of their school communities, family members, local business leaders, elected officials, and other supporters cheer them on during the annual College March.
A Consortium of “Good Fit” Colleges
Together with our college counselors we are identifying and building strong relationships with “Good Fit” colleges—schools whose philosophies share similarities with our educational approach, and have a strong record of graduating low-income, first generation college students on time and without significant debt. We invite these colleges to our network-wide college events and help set up interview opportunities for our students.
Addressing “Summer Melt”
Our schools partner with CARA (College Access: Research & Action), to train near-peer coaches to work with our seniors (the coaches are college students who attended the same high school as the students they are coaching). The coaching takes place throughout students’ senior year, and includes face‐to‐face, telephone and support on matters such as financial aid and course registration. It is particularly aimed at reducing “summer melt,” the phenomenon whereby students gain admission to college in the spring but fail to enroll in the fall for a variety of reasons, including missing key steps that many first-generation college students are simply not aware of.
Annual Meetup Day
Meetup Day serves as an opportunity for our seniors from all of our network high schools to come together and make connections before leaving for college and other endeavors. The day provides an opportunity for us to introduce students planning to attend the same college to one another so they will have informal social connections before they leave their high schools.
Once students enroll in college, we focus on helping to ensure our alumni receive the support they need to persist in and graduate from college.
Supported by recent research around the value of “nudges” through text messaging for first-generation students, seniors at our schools are automatically enrolled in our Text-to-Success program, and begin to receive tailored text updates around important application, financial aid, and enrollment deadlines. Students continue to receive texts after high school graduation and throughout their time at college, helping to “nudge” students towards making decisions that will result in success. When students respond to texts, our Alumni Manager counsels them individually through decisions and deadlines. An independent research study revealed that students who receive our texts are 55 percentage points more likely to be enrolled in college than students who do not.
This college-level advisory program informed by the “Crew” structure we use in our network schools supports our most vulnerable graduates, those who are attending CUNY schools, and in particular two-year community colleges. These students meet weekly with our Alumni Manager to discuss their aspirations and challenges, explore career opportunities and provide support to each other.
Crew Mentors Pilot
Through this program, we enlist and train a cadre of our alumni who are currently enrolled in college to act as Mentors and provide peer support to Crews of younger Mentees during their first year of college. Mentors provide one-on-one support to their Mentees through text, phone, and in-person meetings, and also help coordinate and lead gatherings for Mentee Crews.