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How can every young person have an opportunity to succeed in the college or career pursuit of their choice?

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The Opportunity

According to Complete College America, by 2018, 64 percent of jobs in the United States will require a postsecondary degree or certificate. Yet, for many students, the steps to postsecondary education are not clear, and the supports and services to get there are invisible or unavailable. While every young person should have access to an academic experience – including a rigorous college and career-ready curriculum, and a clear and supported pathway to pursuing postsecondary options – postsecondary attainment is a complicated issue. It requires a multi-pronged approach that engages key stakeholders from many sectors, including the school district, higher education institutions, and community organizations.

“We want students of color, and students from low-income backgrounds, to hear the higher education messages that children of college-educated parents take as a given. The messages are: You can go to college. You can succeed. You will have more and better opportunities if you do.”

Rochelle Nichols-Solomon, Director, Postsecondary Success, FHI 360

The Response

The Postsecondary Success Collaborative (PSC), funded by the Citi Foundation, and conceived of and managed by FHI 360, began in 2008 as a five-year effort to increase postsecondary access and success, particularly for underserved students of color in high need communities. The initiative focused on 10 pilot public high schools in Miami-Dade County, San Francisco, and Philadelphia. Of the 10 pilot schools, seven were considered “strong implementation schools,” as defined by factors such as:

  • Principal viewed college access as a priority, and provided leadership to PSC activities.
  • Principal, administrators, and faculty expected all students to go to college.
  • Schools used asset mapping through FHI 360’s Postsecondary Success Asset Mapping process to determine college access and success priorities.
  • Schools shifted from a reactive approach to a strategic approach, seeking and deploying resources to improve college access and success supports.
  • Schools focused attention on early grades, establishing a college-going culture from 9th grade on.

In each community, PSC was led by local education funds (LEFs) –The Education Fund in Miami-Dade County, Philadelphia Education Fund, and San Francisco Education Fund. Each LEF organized multi-sector partnerships designed to strengthen shared accountability for results and sustainability in each city.

Over the course of the first five years of PSC, the LEFs, their community partners, and the pilot schools regularly sought guidance on the most effective approaches to analyzing and interpreting data. As the evaluation partner, Equal Measure helped the partnerships focus on important indicators informed by the local context. This mixed-method evaluation deepened the partnerships’ understanding of progress outcomes.  It also gave the LEFs and partners strong examples of effective ways to present data, which FHI 360 built upon by emphasizing how to share the data to help shape necessary program changes and priorities. Through its role as an evaluation and thought partner, Equal Measure placed PSC in a better position to understand and act upon what it would take to shift the culture of schools, districts, higher education institutions, and non-profit organizations in the three communities, so that students could realize their postsecondary goals.

The Results

The results from the pilot high schools in each community are significant:

  • In the three communities, between 2009 and 2013, immediate college enrollment for 12th graders increased by 18% for graduating seniors among the ten pilot schools, compared to a 5% increase in the three school districts over the same period. College persistence – the number of students persisting from the first to the second year in college – increased by 11% among pilot school students during the life of the initiative, compared to a 7% increase across the three districts.
  • Strong implementation of the PSC initiative in the pilot high schools produced even bigger wins for students than those noted above. Among strong implementation schools, college enrollment increased by 30% over the life of the initiative and college persistence increased by 26% over the course of the initiative (compared to the 5% and 7% respective increases noted in the school districts).
  • Strong implementation of the PSC initiative also produced some very big gains for students of color, who were of particular concern to the Citi Foundation when it sought to support schools in underserved communities. College enrollment among African American and Latino students in strong implementation schools increased by 25% from 2009 to 2013, compared to a 5% increase among students of color in the district overall.
  • Additionally, college persistence among African American and Latino students in all target schools increased by 22%, and in the strong implementation schools increased by 27% during the same period, compared to a 4% increase in the district overall.

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