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Building a pathway to college: FHI 360 and Citi Foundation team up with The Education Fund to make it happen

June 13, 2013 —

Three years ago, Jimena was a shy, soft-spoken 9th grader entering Miami Beach High School. Even then she was thinking about education beyond high school. But, as with many of her classmates, Jimena’s parents did not go to college, and she did not know where to learn more about her options. Fortunately, her school’s College Club helped her find the answers.

“I joined the College Club when I was in 9th grade because a friend asked me to come on the college trip. Before the College Club, I was really shy,” Jimena says. “That first college trip really opened me up as a person. I joined the College Club because I saw that it would give me the information I needed to make decisions. It also inspired me to help others like me by encouraging them to get involved in the club.”

Now a rising senior, Jimena not only has a clear pathway to achieve her college aspirations, but she is also able to cultivate her leadership skills. Elected the Board Chair of the College Club, Jimena is thriving in a position that allows her and fellow board members to help others prepare for life after high school. As one who describes herself as “wanting to be recognized as helping others,” Jimena says participation in the College Club has furthered her goal of “being the first person in my family to go to college.”

More Miami-Dade County students are joining Jimena on that pathway thanks to the Postsecondary Success Collaborative, which launched in 2008 as the Citi Postsecondary Success Program (CPSP) with a grant from the Citi Foundation to expand postsecondary access and success in communities where college attendance rates were low. The strategy was clear:

  • Partner with a local lead organization
  • Inventory existing resources and needs using FHI 360’s Postsecondary Success Asset Map
  • Build, strengthen and coordinate local partnerships
  • Build and strengthen support systems that reach students who need them most

The Education Fund of Miami-Dade County — an organization focused on creating and implementing innovations to improve public schools in the Miami Dade school district, the 4th largest in the U.S. — took the lead locally and FHI 360 provided technical assistance to form strategies to better support students, such as the College Clubs that were started in 2009 at Miami Beach, Westland Hialeah, and Southridge high schools. The Postsecondary Success Collaborative has spread to three more Miami-Dade high schools and plans to continue expanding.

Through College Clubs, participants benefit from practical training to prepare them for the college application and scholarship process. Jimena says the club helped her and her friends tackle these complex tasks. “We work on resumes and personal statements,” she says. “We create PowerPoints for the club to help students understand how to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and to share information on the different colleges we can visit together.”

COLLABORATION THAT CREATES OPPORTUNITY

The Postsecondary Success Collaborative has reached more than 12,000 students at its sites in Miami-Dade County, Philadelphia and San Francisco. These communities welcome the collaborative’s simple but effective formula built on information, collaboration and leveraging existing resources. And the need is pressing: According to Complete College America, 64 percent of jobs will require a postsecondary degree or certificate by 2018, and half of those jobs will require a bachelor degree or higher.

To guide its work, The Education Fund used the asset mapping process developed by FHI 360 to identify strategic needs, including the need for strong College Clubs. The process also led higher education partners to conduct “FAFSA Marathons” that bring families and college staff together to complete federal financial aid forms, a critical, but often confusing milestone on the path to postsecondary education. That strategy may be expanded to all district high schools to help more students enroll.

The asset map also flagged the need to reduce the number of students requiring remedial math at the postsecondary level. In response, The Education Fund convened high school math teachers and college professors to develop the Math for College Readiness Class curriculum for high school seniors, which has been piloted in a small network of high schools and is being considered for district-wide expansion.

Another priority was starting college readiness no later than 9th grade. “In the past, high school was just about getting kids through high school,” says Patrick Vega, the chair of the English department at Westland Hialeah High School. “Beginning in freshman orientation, the curriculum now is geared more toward college readiness.”

GETTING RESULTS WHERE THEY ARE NEEDED

These and other efforts increasingly are paying off for students. Take Danny, who came to the United States seven years ago from French Guiana barely speaking English and who remembers being “completely lost” in middle school.

As with many students who fall through the cracks of fragmented support programs, Danny needed help to identify his options and goals for higher education and understand how to achieve them. He received answers and resources at Miami Beach High School, thanks to the school’s partnership with The Education Fund through FHI 360 and the Citi Foundation. “I only got my footing when I went to Miami Beach. The college advisor and the staff were the source of all my information on college. They became my surrogate parents because mine couldn’t help me in this way,” Danny said. Danny is now a sophomore at Miami Dade College. “When I left [Miami Beach High School] I felt ready to take on the world,” he adds. “I saw the future and that I could use Miami Dade College as a stepping stone.”

Jimena and Danny are not isolated success stories. Project evaluation data from Miami-Dade gathered by the OMG Center for Collaborative Learning for 2009–2012 showed a 34 percent increase in college enrollment rates at Postsecondary Success Collaborative schools, compared to only a 7 percent increase in demographically similar schools.

Initial findings on the overall program are equally encouraging: College enrollment rose sharply over three years at the participating schools, with rates rising 42 percent for Hispanic students, 47 percent for black students and 45 percent for English language learners. To gauge postsecondary retention, more data will be obtained by following the Class of 2012 through its first year of college.