News: Federal Policy & Advocacy

KIPP to Congress: 5 Ways to Support Our Students

Thursday, May 9, 2019  
Posted by: Jack Porter, Advocacy Associate
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Upon release of its report titled “The Promise of a Choice-Filled Life,” the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) held a congressional briefing yesterday, which featured a panel that included a KIPP alumni, a current employee, and two policy experts. KIPP, an NCAN member, began in 1994 serving a few dozen fifth graders in Houston, TX, has now reached more than 100,000 students through its network of public charter schools serving students in pre-K through 12th grade.

The report includes five recommendations for reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA). KIPP calls on Congress to:

  • Make significant investments in college counselors.
  • Prioritize need-based aid through a federal-state partnership.
  • Establish a fund to increase support for traditionally underserved populations.
  • Invest in Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) and provide a permanent solution for DREAMERS, including federal aid eligibility.
  • Improve the pre-K to career pipeline by modernizing the Federal Work-Study (FWS) program.

Investment in College Counselors

It is well established just how incredibly thin most school counselors are spread with regard to their responsibilities. And according to the KIPP report, counselors in many urban, comprehensive high schools serve almost 500 students each – a far cry from the average student-counselor ratio of 100-to-1 in KIPP schools, or even the 250-to-1 target set by the American School Counselor Association.

KIPP recommends that Congress invest in counseling practices that have proven to be effective, create a grant program aimed specifically at reducing the national student-to-counselor ratio, and incentivize states and districts to join in these efforts. KIPP’s own College Match Program calls for students to apply to six or more target or reach schools and helps them identify which is the strongest match based on the student’s academic profile as well as the institution’s graduation rate, net price for low-income families, campus supports, and more.

Since the program began in 2014, the number of KIPP students applying to six or more institutions has increased from 15% to 74% – a meaningful improvement given that students who apply to more target and reach colleges go on to complete college more often, according to KIPP analysis. Remarking on his own experience with the College Match Program, KIPP alumni Ty Chung stated during the panel, “The college counseling changed my life.” Chung is a recent graduate of Bucknell University and is bound for law school in the fall.

Prioritization of Need-Based Aid

Unsurprisingly, affordability came up more than once during the panel’s discussion. Chung cited the experience of his peers stopping out with regret over the debt they have accumulated. His fellow panelist, Director of Higher Education Policy at the Education Trust Tiffany Jones, harped on the decreasing purchasing power of the Pell Grant.

The issues of rising college costs and the vast disparities in percent of income spent on higher education are addressed in the report, and KIPP calls for families to be provided with an “affordability guarantee.” Specifically, KIPP argues that no family should have to spend more than 14% of its income to achieve a student’s educational dreams.

Also included in KIPP’s recommendations is a federal-state partnership focused on first-dollar, need-based programs. An emphasis on need-based aid is included in NCAN’s Model State Policy Agenda, and NCAN enthusiastically supports this recommendation.

Serving Traditionally Underrepresented Populations

“Transitioning from southeast D.C. to a very affluent institution was very hard for me,” said Chung when speaking on his experience at Bucknell. Chung’s experience is, devastatingly, the reality for most KIPP alumni; more than 50% of respondents in the 2017 and 2018 alumni surveys reported that they felt negatively judged by their peers because of their racial and/or social class backgrounds.

In turn, the KIPP report calls for appropriations that would support the development of programs aimed at improving college access and completion among students of color, students from low-income families, first-generation college students, and those from families who immigrated to the U.S.

Supporting MSIs

There are multiple types of MSIs as defined in HEA, and many institutions that meet these criteria receive federal grants under the Strengthening Institutions Program (SIP). Several Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), for example, receive SIP grants to improve academic supports, among other things.

HBCUs are a tremendous asset in higher education. These institutions serve a disproportionately high amount of black students; they serve a student population that is almost three-quarters Pell-eligible; and they confer a disproportionately high number of degrees to black students. Moreover, KIPP students attending HBCUs report a stronger sense of belonging than their peers at Predominantly White Institutions (PWIs).

NCAN enthusiastically applauds KIPP’s recommendation to make continued investment in SIPs in Title III of the HEA.

Improving Federal Work-Study

Analyses show that students from wealthier families who receive work-study placements are much more likely to work in a career-relevant role than their lower-income peers, a challenge that Chung echoed in his remarks. He said it was difficult to balance the urgent need to earn a wage with what he knew might be best for his career.

Better aligning the Federal Work-Study program with career-relevant opportunities is a proposal in which both the White House and Congress have expressed interest, and KIPP added its name to that list in its report.

NCAN is thankful that KIPP raised several important issues facing students in its insightful discussion and is excited that a group that serves so many students is engaged in the policy dialogue more broadly.

(Photo courtesy of KIPP)