College Readiness wraps up 2015–2016 with resounding success

The HISD College Readiness Dept. works closely with HISD high schools to create and maintain a college-bound culture. The district saw a major increase in college applications and FAFSA completions this past school year, with a 23-percentage-point increase in college applications over last year and a 10-percentage-point increase in financial-aid applications.

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Twenty-eight new College Success Advisers (CSAs) and 15 new College Success Managers (CSM) were definitely a factor in the increases. Last summer, thanks to a Houston Endowment grant of $3 million, the college advisers and managers were hired and trained to assist district seniors with applying for college and scholarships.

And their work did not end with graduation. The CSAs and CSMs continue to make sure students make it to their first day of college. CSAs implemented summer-bridge programs in partnership with Linked Learning teams at 20 campuses across the district. During these multi-week, boot-camp-style workshops, students prepared for success in college through activities such as college visits to complete enrollment tasks, hearing from speakers about life in college, and engaging in group discussions about being the first in their family to attend college.

“This year’s successes have been phenomenal and entirely dependent upon the quality of the people working with the students,” said College Success Manager Jeremy Tatum. “The CSAs and CSMs are largely responsible, thanks to their deliberate outreach and support. They continue to pour themselves into their work, even during the summer months when many folks in this field are on vacation. Their dedication, passion, and skills continue to amaze me!”

The CSAs are reaching out to students by phone and text to ensure they complete lingering financial aid and enrollment tasks. They are also holding office hours during which students and their parents can get any support they may need.

A new partnership with the Urban Experience Program at the University of Houston also served 25 exiting seniors, who attended a four-day, overnight, summer-bridge program on the UH campus. During this program, students formed relationships with peer mentors, attended classes, and met professors, as well as connected with student-support offices to ensure they are equipped to navigate the UH system.

Mounting scholarship offers are also playing a role in helping seniors get to college in the fall. The total is more than $314 million so far this year, up $49 million over last year. Several new sponsors have come forward to help. CITGO Petroleum Corp. awarded $1,000 each to 20 HISD seniors pursuing degrees in STEM, selected from more than 300 applicants. Another new sponsor is the Laura Catuzzi Grandcolas Foundation, which established a 9/11 memorial scholarship in honor of Grandcolas who perished 15 years ago on United Flight 93. Rising juniors from 15 HISD schools submitted essays on the country’s response to 9/11 and how it has impacted the lives of citizens. Three winners will be announced at a ceremony on Sept. 11, with the first-prize winner receiving $1,500, the second $1,000, and the third $500.

The EMERGE college-prep program has had its most successful year ever as well. The program, which  prepares talented HISD students from underserved communities to successfully attend the nation’s top colleges at no cost to them, is sending 164 scholars to Ivy League and other tier-one colleges and universities, up 65 students from 2015. EMERGE scholars benefitted from extensive programming, individualized support, and tailored resources throughout grades 10-12. Once students go away to college, EMERGE program managers continue to work closely with them and their families to ensure their success. Since EMERGE began in 2011, more than 600 students have pursued higher education.

In other college news, HISD and University of Houston joined forces to offer a new teacher-preparation program that aims to bring HISD’s brightest students back into the classroom upon college graduation. Through the Teach Forward Houston program, the first cohort of more than 60 seniors from 31 HISD high schools will pursue a degree in education, thanks to their tuition being paid to the University of Houston in exchange for a commitment to teach for four years in HISD after graduation. It ensures that in the future, many HISD elementary- and middle-school classrooms will be staffed with talented, highly effective teachers who know the district and are driven to make a positive impact on its students.