High School To College Pipeline: New School 'Culture' Takes Root With College Summit Curriculum

This piece comes to us courtesy of New Haven Independent.

Cheers arose for a new effort to get high school seniors into college—cheers, though as of yet no hard data to prove it’s working.

Those cheers arose from officials last week at an event honoring high school seniors who spent a year counseling classmates to get to college.

They did claim success in changing school "culture." They said they were not ready to release data demonstrating whether they’ve succeeded in getting kids into more, and better, colleges.

College Summit, a private outfit hired by the school district, convened the awards luncheon last Thursday for 68 seniors who have served as "peer leaders" for their classmates under the program. College Summit runs similar programs in 42 districts nationwide.

As part of the College Summit curriculum, rising seniors at three city high schools enlisted in college-going "boot camp" last summer. Then they returned to their schools to help fellow students apply for college. The program launched as a pilot at Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School in 2010; it expanded last year to include Metropolitan Business Academy and James Hillhouse High School.

The effort is part of a broader citywide school reform drive that officials promised to judge based on metrics and numerical benchmarks. After celebrating the students’ work last week, College Summit agreed to provide the Independent with results of a study detailing the progress of the program so far. Then it changed its mind and declined.

As peer leaders, Montrell Johnson and other students got summer training in the college application process. Then they brought the word back to their schools. Back at Coop, Montrell sat down with three other students and helped them fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)—a major hurdle kids need to pass before getting federal money.

Kids find the form confusing, and long. Montrell said it took him about 20 minutes to help a fellow student fill out. Montrell said he helped over 20 of his peers write personal statements for their college applications. He admitted to getting "senioritis" after getting into college. He said College Summit helped him stay focused—and understand that the college could yank his acceptance letter if his grades suffered. Now he’s headed to graduate this month and head to Fisher College in Boston in the fall.

Mayor John DeStefano called students like Montrell key to the city’s effort to boost the city’s college enrollment rate.

Only 59 percent of New Haven Public School grads enroll in college right after graduating from high school, according to the school district. The mayor’s school reform drive aims to boost that number by 5 percent each year. DeStefano said in order to do that, the city needs to build a college-going culture in its schools, led in part by students themselves.

"You’re microphones and beacons on a hill," DeStefano said, "leading not by what you say, but by what you do."

Paid for by private funds, including $2 million from Yale-New Haven Hospital, College Summit is promoting college-going in grades pre-K to 12. The company was brought in to complement New Haven Promise, the city’s college scholarship program.


College Summit founder and CEO J.B. Schramm said the company uses two main metrics to measure its success: Enrollment in, and persistence in, college.

That data was unavailable for this story. In some cases because it’s too early to gather meaningful data. In one case the company declined to turn over a report it has prepared on last year’s graduates.

College Summit collects the data from the National Student Clearinghouse, based on students first and last names and birth dates. The company uses a "baseline" college enrollment rate. It looks at how many kids enroll in college the fall after graduating a given high school. The "baseline" college enrollment rate is the average of that number for the three years before College Summit comes to town.

After one year in a school, College Summit looks at how many high school seniors—including peer leaders like Montrell—ended up enrolling in college. That data exists only for Coop High’s Class of 2011, because College Summit has been in the school for two years.

Veronica DeLandro, director of New Haven’s College Summit program, said Thursday she would send over the company’s College Enrollment Rate report for the Class of 2011. About an hour later, she said she was unable to send the report because it has not been finalized and because she has not shared the data with schools Superintendent Reggie Mayo.

DeLandro said the company has the data but needs to do more analysis it before its release. The company will eventually release an analysis of where last year’s 100 Co-op high school seniors ended up—how many went to two-year or four-year colleges, or no college at all. The report aims to give the school feedback on how to better prepare kids for post-high-school success, she said.

DeLandro did share a snapshot of how this year’s seniors prepared for college. Throughout the year, College Summit tracks the number of personal essays written, FAFSA apps completed, and college applications filled out.

As of last week, 79 percent of the seniors at New Haven’s three participating College Summit high schools had applied to college. That’s 100 percent of Metro seniors, 65 percent of Hillhouse seniors, and 90 percent at Co-op.

A total of 88 percent had taken the SAT: 95 percent at Metro, 84 percent at Hillhouse and 91 percent at Co-op.

And 79 percent had filled out the FAFSA: 92 percent at Metro, 70 percent at Hillhouse and 86 percent at Co-op.

Dolores Garcia-Blocker, the city school official overseeing the College Summit partnership, said the district doesn’t have a baseline to compare those numbers to because it did not gather the college application data prior to College Summit’s arrival.  Coop Principal Frank Costanzo said the college acceptance rate at his school has risen from the low 80s to about 90 percent over the past three years; he didn’t have enrollment data and College Summit declined to give the hard numbers.

As Metro and Hillhouse enter their second year with College Summit, the company will be watching for their college enrollment rate, too.

Nationwide, College Summit claims to boost enrollment rates by 12 to 18 percent over four years, according to DeLandro. CEO Schramm said starting this fall, the company will also be able to track college persistence, meaning whether kids stay in college after their freshman year.

Only half of New Haven Public School grads enroll in a second year of college within two years of graduating from high school, according to the school district. Affordability is the number one reason students drop out, according to the Institute for Higher Education Policy.

While it’s too early to see whether students trained by College Summit will stay in college, some officials said they already see progress inside school walls.

"There’s a culture shift in the district around college-going," said Garcia-Blocker. She said that’s taking place not just in high schools, but all the way down to pre-K, where students are learning to set their sights on their plans beyond high school.