New DC Public Schools program aims to boost college completion

Each year, just over half of D.C. Public Schools’ 2,000 graduates go on to attend college, but less than 40 percent of those college-bound students ultimately earn a degree. Now, a new DCPS program aims to increase that completion rate by 10 percentage points, helping former DCPS students navigate college, stay on track, and reinforce a college-going culture in their communities. 

Coaching to smooth students’ transition to college

The initiative, called DCPS Persists, received a $10 million private grant from the A. James & Alice B. Clark Foundation and is believed to be the first program of its kind launched by a public school district.

Erin Ward Bibo, DCPS deputy chief of college and career programs, has been working in this space for years and says that K-12 education leaders can do more to ensure students are positioned to earn a college degree and secure employment. “This is unchart[ed] territory” she told WAMU, adding that 80 percent of the jobs available in the Washington, D.C., region require a degree. “We want our graduates to have a seat at the table,” she said. “And in the economy in D.C., having a seat at the table, more often than not, means having a college degree.”

DCPS Persists will have 10 college coaches working closely with 750 high school seniors who are headed to college. The coaches will serve as a resource throughout the students’ college years, checking in frequently by calling, texting, and visiting campus. Students will be able to turn to their coaches for help navigating available financial and academic supports, and meeting key milestones on the college-to-career continuum. 

Building a college-going culture

Similar programs overseen by nonprofits have helped ensure that incoming college freshmen, specifically low-income and first-generation students, don’t feel as though they’re taking on college by themselves. The College Success Foundation has been helping students make the leap from high school to college in Washington, D.C., since 2006. “He’d call asking if I’ll need anything,” Assad Jenkins, a current junior at Clark Atlanta University in Georgia, told WAMU of his College Success Foundation mentor. “If it’s academically, financially, just personally or I just need to vent, he’s a person that I can count on to help.” 

Ultimately, DCPS Chancellor Lewis Ferebee hopes that the DCPS Persists program will help counteract the “community narrative…where students feel college isn’t for them,” WAMU reports. “We hope to be a long term structure that will deal with socio-economic mobility, but also continue to contribute to a thriving city,” says Ferebee.

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