KIPP school network expands microgrant program to boost college completion

Most primary and secondary schools aren’t known for helping their students once they head off to college. But the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP)—a nationwide network of free, open-enrollment public charter schools—is working to ensure that KIPP graduates successfully complete college, writes Inside Higher Ed.

KIPP, which serves 96,000 students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade and more than 12,000 alumni, has gained prominence for sending disadvantaged and low-income students to college. However, the school network also has found that those same students are often unable to graduate from college due to financial roadblocks.

Specifically, a survey of KIPP alumni revealed that only 44 percent of the 81 percent of KIPP graduates who enrolled in college had actually graduated from a four-year institution as of 2016. Many students faced obstacles to degree completion such as food insecurity or financially supporting their family members during college. Realizing that small microgrants could make a big difference for students experiencing “acute financial need,” the school network decided to expand a microgrant program, which originated in Washington and is funded by philanthropy.

KIPP-provided college advisors connect alumni with one-time grants

“This program really came out of our advisors having heartbreaking conversations with alumni,” Meghan Behnke, deputy director of the KIPP Through College and Careers advising program, told Inside Higher Ed. “Despite students working incredibly hard to get there and persist in programs, too many students are forced to leave school because they couldn’t pay a bill.”

KIPP officials say the network’s college advising program is critical to connecting students with microgrants, as counselors can encourage alumni to apply upon hearing about financial struggles.

In the KIPP DC Program, which averaged $3,236 per one-time microgrant, 95 percent of students who received grants have either graduated or remain in college. “It was ultimately life-changing,” said Aaron Ford, a KIPP DC alumnus. “I come from a background of struggle, and it reassured me that I could pursue my dreams and make a better life for myself.”

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