KIPP helps grow college funds

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Houston Chronicle (PCC)
By: Jennifer Radcliffe
July 7, 2011

Organizations will match money that families save

A housekeeper since her teenage years, Rebeca Figueroa wants better for her four children.

She thought she'd have time to save for their college educations, but money was always tight, and the years passed too quickly.

With her youngest about to start his senior year in high school, the 49-year-old is finally about to open her family's first college savings account. She plans to scrape together $20 a week, money that will be matched by an ambitious program being piloted by the KIPP charter school giant, the Corporation for Enterprise Development and the United Negro College Fund, now called UNCF.

Not only will the $7.5 million Partnership for College Completion provide up to $250 a year in matching funds for her family, but participating will make her 18-year-old son, John, eligible for a scholarship of up to $12,500. (The top 20 percent of participating seniors in 2012 will receive the scholarships over five years.)

"I really thank these people," Figueroa said. "All the time, my goal was, you need college, do what I couldn't do. Parents want something different for their kids."

By encouraging families to save, KIPP hopes to reduce one of the biggest obstacles facing its graduates, 85 percent of whom qualify for free and reduced lunch.

Higher graduation rates
Most KIPP families earn less than $40,000 a year, and many don't have bank accounts. They're struggling just to keep their lights on and put food on the table.

"What this is recognizing is that clearly, a strong academic background is necessary to make it to college, but it's not sufficient," said Bryan Contreras, director of KIPP Through College at KIPP Houston. "There's other factors that come into play, and finance is one of the most important ones."

Only 8 percent of U.S. students from low-income communities complete college, compared to the overall college degree rate of 30.6 percent for Americans 25 to 29. KIPP Houston, however, is already beating those averages with 40 percent of its students earning either a bachelor's or associate's degrees by their mid-20s, according to a recent study.

Research shows that kids with savings accounts are seven times more likely to attend college.

"If a student knows there's money available, he or she is much more likely to be confident that they will complete the college experience," said Karl Reid, UNCF senior vice president of academic programs.

By the end of the 2012 school year, more than 6,000 participating students in at least 28 KIPP schools nationwide will be eligible to participate. About half of the eligible students will be from Houston, officials said.

Families who save starting in middle school will have more than $3,000 by the time their child graduates. They'll also be eligible for the scholarships that Citi and the Citi Foundation are supporting for the Class of 2012.

Finding donors
KIPP and its partners are scrambling to find other donors to help expand.

"We're turning over every stone to find people to keep this program going," KIPP spokesman Steve Mancini said.

The San Francisco public school system has already adopted the model, and other schools could easily follow suit with their own public-private partnerships, officials said.

"Nothing in what we're doing is unique to KIPP," Reid said. "We designed this system to scale to other educational providers and many, many more students."

jennifer.radcliffe@chron.com

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