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MMD Brands First Urban School District Alumni Program
20 January, 2021

MMD Brands First Urban School District Alumni Program

Reprinted in its entirety from the National College Attainment Network, January 6, 2021

View our portfolio to learn about the project design here.

A new initiative from the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) will support graduates from that system through college graduation in what the district believes is a first-of-its-kind model on the national stage.

Launched in late May, “DCPS Persists” combines better postsecondary preparation before students graduate from high school with direct alumni support using a data-driven approach. The district hopes to increase the college graduation rate of DCPS alumni by 10 percentage points over the next five years.

The initiative’s “pre-alumni support” component includes:

A new DCPS Persists curriculum designed to “promote student agency, self-advocacy, and how to navigate college.”

NCAN wrote previously about DCPS’ Guide to Graduation, College, and Career, which contains critical information about students’ high school graduation requirements and trajectories, offered advice for how to get and stay on track to graduate, and highlighted postsecondary institutions based on students’ academic transcripts. That guide is also a critical pre-alumni support.

Finally, DCPS is continuing to build up their “Smart College Choices” initiative, which aims to steer students to the postsecondary institutions that data show will offer them the greatest chance of success according to their academic profile and the college’s graduation rate. DCPS staff hope “Smart College Choices” will enter students’ and families’ lexicons in the next few years as they consider their matriculation options.

“At DC Public Schools, we are committed to our students even after they have a high school diploma in hand,” said Dr. Erin Bibo, deputy chief for college and career programs at DCPS. “Guiding them toward Smart College Choices and helping them access and enroll in these institutions is critical for our efforts. We are thrilled that DCPS Persists allows us to extend that support as students matriculate to college and navigate the first few years on campus.”

The Smart College Choices Initiative is focused on students and families, but it coincides with DCPS’ establishment of partner colleges. These are colleges that enroll large numbers of DCPS graduates and have student bodies similar in background and academic profile to DCPS students.

DCPS is solidifying their partnership with these institutions by, among other things, signing data sharing agreements and dedicating a DCPS Persists coach to support DCPS alumni who matriculate there. The goals are to improve the preparatory practices for students to succeed and to increase graduation rates among DCPS alumni at the partner colleges. This positive feedback loop, in turn, will influence students’ matriculation decisions and strengthen the partnership between the district and the institutions.

In order to help students succeed on campus, a team of full-time coaches will work with college-bound alumni from DCPS.

A targeted group of about 3,750 students over five years will receive more intensive supports – no matter where they attend college. Those alumni will fall into three groups:

250 students per cohort will be assigned coaches and receive up to monthly virtual touch points from coaches as well as personalized reminders around class registration, and specific discussion around grades, academic goals, and adjusting to college.

500 students per cohort will be assigned coaches, have up to bi-weekly virtual touch points and two in-person meetings per semester, receive micro-grants to cover expenses, and get personalized reminders around class registration, and specific discussion around grades, academic goals, and adjusting to college.

Those 750 graduates and all others will be able to benefit from supports and opportunities including College Success Summits featuring sessions designed to support students as they navigate college, pre-college orientations, networking opportunities, regular updates on scholarship and fellowship opportunities, and access to a brand new “Forever DCPS” alumni database.

All of these efforts are being executed through a thoughtful and strategic use of data. DC Public Schools’ use of data from the National Student Clearinghouse (NSC) StudentTracker service has been strong and helped the district identify barriers to and through college while tracking college enrollment, persistence, and completion trends both overall and by institution.

“DCPS’s college enrollment rates have increased by 14 percentage points over six years – access to the data was a foundational step in making this possible,” says Bibo.

The use of these data are important because far too few school leaders are receiving student-level data about postsecondary outcomes. DCPS connects back with partner postsecondary institutions based on that NSC data to identify best practices that improve postsecondary outcomes.

The DCPS Persists team has also invested in a new data tool that allows them to capture much more granular quantitative and qualitative data on the college experiences of the graduates being served through the program. With information on course selection, passage rates, sense of belonging, and specific sources of challenges, the team will aim to proactively identify trends in time to act upon them as well as to backward map trends to identify gaps in student preparation as well as areas of effectiveness in high school practices, interventions, and approaches to curriculum or pedagogy.