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KIPP Partners With Bard College on Dual Enrollment

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KIPP, the nation's largest charter school network, is getting into the college business. One of KIPP's New Orleans' campuses is partnering with Bard College, a New York liberal arts school, to offer its upperclassmen a chance to earn an associates degree as they attend high school.

Similar dual-enrollment programs have long existed in district schools and in some charter schools. But given KIPP's footprint of 224 schools in 20 states, this newest partnership is a model that could have a wide reach within the charter sector should KIPP and Bard choose to expand.

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The partnership is also another example of a shift within KIPP and other "no-excuses" college-prep charter school networks that serve mostly low-income students to investing more resources in the college-going and college completion of their alumni.

Bard Early College New Orleans  

Forty-five students—which is about half of KIPP Renaissance New Orleans' junior class—will be attending the Bard satellite campus housed on the upper floors of their school for the next two years. If students complete all the required credits, they can graduate with both their high school diploma and an associates degree. Even for students who don't complete enough coursework for a degree, the credits they do earn can be transferable to many four-year colleges, according to Bard. The transferability of credits has been a serious issue for students as the popularity of dual-credit programs surges.

KIPP students will be taught by faculty members hired by Bard, all of whom will have Ph.Ds in their subject areas.

Dual-enrollment programs like this can make a big difference in the academic trajectory of low-income students, said Stephen Tremaine, the vice president for Bard's early college program.

First, he said, the program is free, and students can knock out half of a four-year degree without incurring any debt. And that helps break down a big barrier for low-income students when it comes to accessing higher education.

"The second is the opportunity to immerse yourself in a program that combines the intellectual rigor of a top tier college, with the climate of student support and engagement of an excellent high school," said Tremaine.

Students who earn college credits in high school are more likely to graduate college compared to students who do not, according to recent report by the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy for the Alliance for Excellent Education.

However, the extent to which dual-enrollment programs really save students time and money in college has been disputed, most recently by a pair of studies out of Texas.

KIPP and Bard are hoping that participating in the early college program will boost students' academic confidence as they matriculate into four-year programs—and help them feel at home in university classes.

A sense of belonging is critical to first-generation college students' success, according to a survey the KIPP Foundation conducted of 3,000 KIPP alumni, many of whom are black and Latino students.  

While strong academic preparation is arguably a piece of that, culture is definitely key. The KIPP survey found that alumni who attend historically black colleges and universities are significantly more likely to report feelings of belonging than their peers at other colleges. They are also more likely to seek out academic supports at their HBCUs than their peers not attending HBCUs.

No Excuses

A common criticism of KIPP and other no-excuses charter networks is that while they may be successful at boosting standardized test scores and even graduation rates, students aren't learning the non-academic skills they need to succeed in college.

Often with myriad rules and strict standards for behavior that can lead to high discipline rates, the culture of many no-excuses charters may not adequately prepare students for the more freewheeling and self-driven environment of higher education.

But KIPP officials argue that's an outdated view of their schools.

So how will the KIPP Renaissance culture mesh with progressive Bard College? Jonathan Berscht, a spokesperson for KIPP New Orleans, says they're not so different.

"KIPP Renaissance, they have really been building this inquiry-based culture over the past four or five years," he said.

And neither side is entering into this partnership blind. Until recently, Bard had offered a half-day, non-degree granting program open to students from several New Orleans high schools, including KIPP. Nor is this Bard's first foray into dual enrollment. It has been involved in this work since 1979 and has launched programs with high schools in New York, New Jersey, and Ohio.

Students were selected for Bard Early College New Orleans by Bard faculty through an admissions process that included seminars, discussions, and essays, with the goal of selecting students with the highest-level of interest, not necessarily those with the highest GPAs.

If it succeeds, it could mean the expansion of dual-enrollment programs in KIPP schools. But Tremaine also hopes it might inspire similar partnership among other colleges and charter schools.

"We think this is a model that other universities can take on," he said.

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