A partnership between an institute of higher education and a charter school network can be a beautiful thing. For the charter, college and university connections help introduce students to a broader array of possibilities for higher education than they might normally see. The college or university, in turn, is offered a chance to reach a greater number of students, increase campus diversity and boost enrollment numbers.
Such partnerships come with responsibility, however. Statistics show that simply welcoming a charter school graduate onto campus does little to ensure the student will stay in school.
Despite exemplary high school graduation and college acceptance rates, charters have recently become aware of this challenge: A large percentage of their graduates fail to earn college degrees. Though it’s difficult to find statistics that measure charters as a group, the best estimates place college graduation rates at about 23%.
That figure aligns with stats on low-income students — students in much the same demographic as the charter school population — that have raised concern among higher education administrators for some time. A mere 9% of low-income students are staying in college long enough to earn degrees. Meanwhile, the number of such students enrolling in college dropped more than 10% between 2005 and 2013.
Seeking out new charter school connections can turn that enrollment number around, but what happens once the student arrives? Why are so many students in this demographic falling through the cracks?
Colleges seeking connections with charters must be aware of the challenges those graduates face and prepare their campuses accordingly. Good charters know their populations well — and their faculty and administrators might have excellent advice for higher education employees about how to keep these kids in school. Meanwhile, colleges and universities can offer charters insight into the skills students might need to acquire before graduating high school if they’re going to succeed in college.
Last year, KIPP, one of the nation’s most renowned charter networks, hosted a summit that attracted 53 colleges and 20 college presidents, which focused on addressing the needs of first-generation college students. Many low-income students are first-generation and, according to KIPP, that means they will arrive at school with different expectations and perceptions than students whose parents and grandparents might have gone to college.
The KIPP School Summit identified three main areas where colleges and charters can collaborate in helping these students succeed academically and earn higher degrees.
- Access — Higher education institutions need to market to students in the charter school demographic. They need to actively offer charter school and other low-income students information on their schools, invitations to tour campus and introductions to other students from similar backgrounds who are already succeeding at their schools. A formal partnership is an obvious step in the direction of helping increase first-generation student access
- Belonging — First-generation students report feeling alienated on campus. Once they’ve arrived, schools need to take the lead in helping these kids find a greater sense of belonging. That could mean creating events specifically designed to help first-generation students connect with each other, raising faculty and administrator awareness about the challenges first-generation students face or simply taking care to provide all students with low-cost opportunities to gather and socialize
- Affordability — Schools must be aware that for many first-generation students meeting the financial demands of a college education will remain a struggle throughout their education. Many are deeply involved in financing their education and have valid questions about what they’re paying for and why they’re paying so much. Schools must take an active role in answering these questions. These students also need insight into how they can reduce education costs. That could mean anything from offering ongoing financial aid counseling to marketing a textbook rental program or buyback in a way that speaks directly to that customer
As more colleges and universities navigate the world of charter school relationships, they’re likely to find more ways to serve these populations. The steps they take to care for first-generation students will undoubtedly benefit “traditional” students, too.