CATEGORY: Teachers and Leaders

Leonore Jun 1, 2018

Behind every college acceptance video and speech at Senior Signing Day, there’s a bigger story about helping all students gain college access and achieve persistence. We sat down with Amy Christie, the senior director of Achievement First’s college team, to learn more about our network’s college acceptance rates and college process. What is the college acceptance process like at Achievement First? I am in my eighth year here, and so much has changed in that time. When I first started, we only had two small high schools. Now, we have five (four of them full-grown) and our class of graduating seniors is 16 times bigger than it was all of those years ago. This year’s class has earned approximately 1,500 college acceptances. We’ve always been focused on helping student find their best-fit colleges—schools that best fit them academically, socially, and financially. In addition to that three-pronged approach, we are also looking at the six-year college graduation rate for underrepresented students, to determine, from a data perspective, how a student can maximize their likelihood of graduation. In the past several years, we’ve also become a lot stronger at preparing students to write their college essays. We’ve also improved at really identifying colleges that do right by first-generation college students of color. We use data and our matching tool to make sure students go to challenging schools where they will be successful. The focus at AF has always been on helping students graduate from college. What is AF’s college acceptance rate? Our college acceptance rate is 100%. All of our eligible students have been accepted to at least one four-year college. An exceptionally small group of students with IEPs (a fraction of our total population of students with IEPs) pursue non-college paths—a decision determined through close collaboration with the student and family—as part of the IEP transition meeting process. Throughout high school, schools provide the services required to support every student’s ambitious post-graduation plans.
Achievement First College Acceptance Rate: 100% Achievement First High Loss Attrition 2016-17: 6.1%
And how are our students doing in college? Our students are so much more confident and clear about where they’re going, and you can see it. Our alumni are starting on-campus groups, they are involved in athletics, and in plays. Part of that is because they are truly going to colleges that are the right fit for them. They are also better prepared academically. Our students, broadly, do not need to take remedial classes once they get to college—far better than the 60% of college freshmen in remedial classes. Right now, based on our current predictive indicators of credit accumulation, approximately 50% of our alumni are on track to graduate college before they turn 24 years old, a percentage far greater than the current 9% graduation rate for students from low-income families. Our goal is to help our alumni graduate college at the same high rates as students from the highest income quartile (77%). Is there a particular student who makes you especially proud? I am so proud of all of our alumni, and about how they lean into challenge and really embrace, and get comfortable with, the most difficult parts of college life. I’m thinking in particular of an alumna I’ll call Shavonne. Right before she matriculated to Lafayatte College, she was really nervous about what she would think of living there, and how she would do. Now, I’ve learned that not only is she doing well academically, she’s going to intern at the admissions office, which is such an indicator that she’s had such a positive experience! It was especially moving to me because Lafayette is a PWI (predominantly white institution) and Shavonne believes she can play a role, as a woman of color from Central Brooklyn, in helping other students from marginalized communities access her great experiences in college. It also shows how secure she is in her identity. We are seeing more and more about how that combination of strong academic preparedness, finding the right fit college, and cultivate a strong “personal why” to go to and graduate from college are pre-requisites for support success like this. How does AF support students through college? What’s the end goal? The end goal is “through college”—it’s college graduation. Our college acceptance rate is just the beginning. Graduation starts with a strong college match at the front end, because the likelihood of success is greater, and our students will be better able to persist, at the institution that’s right for them. Once our alumni are on campus, our ultimate support goal is to build capacity. We want to help support access and equity and an inclusive environment. Our college success counselors play an important role in connecting our alumni with what they need on campus, particularly because students of color are underrepresented in higher education as a function of the long history of racism in this country. The support includes everything from facilitating resubmission of the FAFSA, to helping them get advice on what classes students should take. The goal is that our alumni will never back down. They will graduate, pursue their dreams, and be leaders. Yes, they certainly will! Thanks, Amy!

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