10 Ways High Schools Can Contribute to College Completion

Great schools are coherent–the curriculum, instruction, schedule, structures, symbols, supports and connections are all consistent with their mission.
When it comes to a coherent approach to college preparation, University Academy (UA) in Kansas City is one of the best schools in the country.
It is perhaps the best public, open-admission college prep school serving low-income community. It reflects the vision of the founders–prominently displayed around the school.

As we highlighted in the first blog of the series, UA is committed to closing the achievement gap and the opportunity gap.
Since 2004, 100 percent of UA graduates have been accepted to college and almost 60 percent graduate with a BA or higher. While that is remarkable (the average for low-income college graduation is 9 percent) the board wants to see improvement in completion rates. As a result, shared practices, supports and symbols have shifted from preparation to completion.
Following are 10 ways that the K-12 UA community supports college awareness, preparation, enrollment and completion.
1. Wall of Honor. The entry hallway at University Academy is full of pendants of colleges that alumi attend. It’s clear from the front door what is important at UA.
2. Excellence in early education. College ready starts early. That means high expectations begin in kindergarten 95% of UA’s kindergarteners exit at or above grade level in Math and Reading. A new transitional kindergarten program provides extra time and support for students who come to UA without formal preschool experience.
3. Supported mastery. High school teachers share a mastery protocol–students must pass each unit of study with a score of 80 percent or better. Struggling students get extra time and support including summer school.
4. School to be proud of. In many ways, UA strives to be a school young people want to attend. UA has a spectacular facility. They have a great brand and a full line of clothing. There is an athletics and band hall of fame. There is a homecoming parade through the halls of the school.
5. Academics first. At UA, academics come first. Practice doesn’t start until 4 p.m. when academic tutoring is finished. UA joined an athletic league of eight other college prep schools with a shared commitment to academics first.
6. Junior & senior seminar. Juniors take a daily seminar course where they build college and career awareness. During senior seminar, students get help with SAT prep, college application and essay development
7. Health and family supports. Children’s Mercy runs an on-site wellness Center. UA also has a nurse. A free on-site dental clinic, operated by UMKC (pictured below) is used by more than 300 students.
8. Friends. Like expensive private schools, a benefit organization, Friends of University Academy, raises money for students but provides it in unique ways. To promote college completion, cash incentives are awarded for grades; a GPA of 3.5 earns $1,000 per semester.
9. Global travel. With support from Friends of UA, over 70 percent of students in the Class of 2017 will have traveled internationally by graduation. For many students, it’s their first trip out-of-state. Superintendent Tony Kline said the trips are often life changing and prepare the students to leave home, live independently and feel included at college.
10. Keep top students. Even though the high school is small, Kline and his team work hard to provide competitive programs including electives and activities–it keeps top students enrolled through graduation.
College awareness, preparation, enrollment and completion is the result of a system. University Academy is a good example of a K-12 system designed to propel young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to and through college. College awareness, preparation, enrollment and completion is the result of a system. UA leaders, teachers and supporters are committed to creating opportunities for kids who have traditionally not had them. Their results show that perhaps the best way to close the achievement gap is to close the gap in opportunity.
This post is a part of a blog series in the upcoming “Getting Smart on Closing the Opportunity Gap” Smart Bundle produced in partnership with University Academy. Join the conversation on Twitter using #CloseTheOppGap. For more, check out:

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Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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