Increasing College Completion in the Arkansas Delta

Scott Shirey, Executive Director of KIPP Delta Public Schools, asked: Since we’re constantly pushing to improve our college-going support for our KIPPsters, couldn’t students outside of our schools also benefit from what we’re learning? With the help of a grant, the answer he is discovering is yes.

Student from KIPP Delta Public Schools graduating from Hendrix  College in Conway, Arkansas

By Scott Shirey, Founder and Executive Director of KIPP Delta Public Schools

At KIPP, we know we’re not alone in working to prepare students for choice-filled lives. Our communities have students in public schools of all kinds, and they all deserve the opportunities that a great education provides. Since we’re constantly pushing to improve our college-going support for our KIPPsters, couldn’t students outside of our schools also benefit from what we’re learning?

I’m excited to say that KIPP Delta is getting a chance to find out. In October 2014, we received a two-year grant from the Walton Family Foundation to support a partnership with two local districts in the Arkansas Delta. Supported by this grant, we’ve made KIPP Through College services available to hundreds of juniors, seniors, and their families at Central High School in the Helena-West Helena School District, and at Lee High School in the Lee County School District.


Expanding KIPP Through College Beyond KIPP

For students at KIPP’s six schools in Helena and Blytheville, KIPP Through College offers a support system that starts before they apply and continues until they graduate. Since KIPP Through College started in the Delta five years ago, 93 percent of our high school graduates have enrolled in college, and 80 percent of these students are persisting in college or have earned degrees. At the same time, we saw that our fellow public educators in local districts were dealing with limited resources to support students through the college application process. Recognizing that we are all serving the same communities of students, it only made sense to find a way to work together.

KIPP Delta has hired three full-time college advisors to work with students at Lee and Central High Schools. These advisors provide individual guidance for students pursuing college, vocational, or military careers. They help register students for ACT testing; conduct family learning sessions about higher education options; accompany students on college visits; and share best practices with fellow administrators at participating schools.

Meanwhile, students from Lee and Central recently joined KIPP Delta Collegiate High School students on a campus visit to the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. We’ve also hosted joint campus information sessions with representatives from Duke University,  College, and Vanderbilt University.


A Promising Collaboration

We’re already seeing some positive signs. This year, KIPP Through College counselors visited Central and Lee High Schools to register seniors for the ACT. Between the two schools, over 140 students signed up. This year, nine times as many Central High School students completed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) by January 31 as in previous years. We’ve also seen an increase in four-year college acceptances, especially early acceptances.

So far, the doors of communication have been wide open, and we’ve received a warm embrace in the schools. According to a graduation coach at Central High School, “Having a College Advisor on campus has been of great assistance for our seniors and juniors. It has been especially helpful to have someone that is dedicated to helping seniors with all aspects of the college/post high school process, and our juniors with planning for what they will do after high school.”


Helping Students Find Their Path

The student stories bear this out. For example, all participating juniors in the program took the ACT this year. For many, that’s a year earlier than they might otherwise have taken it. At Lee High School, a student surprised himself by earning the highest ACT score the school has had in several years. With an extra year to consider how this affects his college plans, the student is now working with his advisor to build his college wish list and apply to pre-college summer programs.

Meanwhile, a student at Central High School thought his ACT score was too low to qualify for college. But instead of giving up, he worked with his KIPP advisor to identify schools that might be a good fit. Together, they went on college visits, met with admissions counselors, and applied for scholarships. The result? The student has been accepted to college.


Looking to the Future

In the next two years, KIPP Through College will serve 520 additional students in the Helena-West Helena and Lee County school districts. In Helena-West Helena and Lee County, all public district and charter school juniors and seniors will receive college and post-secondary advising. By the end of the partnership’s second year, we hope to increase the rate of students going to four-year colleges by 75 percent, while ensuring that the rate of students staying in college matches or exceeds the state rate. Because there will now be more seniors in our community geared toward going to college, we hope to attract many more college recruiters to visit the Delta, which in turn, will help support more students as they climb the mountain to and through college.

At KIPP, we are part of a broader movement dedicated to improving public education for all students, not just those who attend KIPP schools. That’s exactly what we hope this partnership will do: make attending and graduating from college a reality for many more students, who in turn, can help build a better future for our entire community and the state of Arkansas.


Learn more about KIPP Through College >