HISD Board of Education votes to accept $8.5 million in grants for college readiness programs

The Houston Independent School District Board of Education voted Thursday to formally accept $8.5 million in grants for programs designed to help high school students get into and graduate from college.

The Houston Endowment awarded the district with two separate grants — $5.5 million and $3 million — in February. The $5.5 million grant will be used to expand the district’s successful EMERGE program to all high schools, while the $3 million matching grant will be used to deploy 28 new college success advisors to campuses across the district.

HISD Superintendent Terry Grier first announced the grant awards in February while giving his sixth State of the Schools address. The board voted unanimously to accept the grants during their workshop on Thursday.

“These generous grants will help us guide and encourage our students on their journey from high school to college — and ultimately college graduation,” Dr. Grier said. “It’s no longer enough to simply ensure our students are ready for college. We must make sure that they complete college. These grants help us do just that.”

The EMERGE program aims to identify low-income, high potential students and help them gain admission to and graduate from Tier 1 and Ivy League colleges and universities. Students in the program participate in college admissions workshops, SAT boot camps and college tours designed to familiarize them with campus life. The program provides one-on-one support to students, most of whom go on to receive scholarships valued at more than $200,000.

The $5.5 million grant from the Houston Endowment will fully fund EMERGE for the next three years and allow it to nearly double in size. As a result, district officials expect the number of EMERGE graduates who attend a top college to more than double from 100 this year to 250 by 2017. Additionally, the expansion will provide program officials with the ability to work with thousands of additional students. Each year, coordinators will be able to work closely with an additional 750 sophomores, juniors and seniors, support an additional 1,000 HISD Emerge alumni and begin early outreach to about 10,000 younger students.

The district now can use money previously earmarked for EMERGE to instead create a 15-person team of college access managers who will be dedicated to boosting college readiness for all students. This team will work across all high schools to ensure students receive the support and guidance they need to be successful.

Like the EMERGE grant, the $3 million matching college advisor grant also will dramatically increase the district’s capacity to focus on ensuring students are ready for college. The grant will more than double the number of dedicated, full-time college advisors available to high school students across the district. These advisors will have one primary mission: ensuring students get into college.

The program expansions are expected to boost college attendance and completion rates by 20 percent over the next three years. The district also hopes to increase the number of HISD graduates attending a four-year college, the number of students who complete their freshman year and return for their sophomore year, and the number of scholarship and financial aid applications and awards — all by the same percentage.

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