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UA pledges funds to help KIPP grads finish college

A new agreement announced Tuesday pledges financial support for about a half-dozen students expected to enter the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville yearly from KIPP Delta charter schools.

Under a memorandum of understanding, UA has set agoal to enroll five to seven students each year beginning this fall from KIPP schools in Helena-West Helena, where KIPP first opened a middle school 12 years ago serving mostly low-income families.

Now KIPP has three Helena-West Helena schools and one in Blytheville. KIPP Through College Director Amy Charpentier said more than 90 percent of seniors at KIPP Delta Collegiate High School enroll in college.

This academic year, however, only three KIPP students enrolled at UA, despite 14 being accepted.

“Money has always been the determining factor in kids enrolling here,” said Charpentier, who brought a group of 12 admitted students to visit the campus.

Chancellor G. David Gearhart announced the agreement while speaking to the group at the UA’s Center for Multicultural and Diversity Education. About 98 percent of students at the KIPP high school are black, according to state data.

“We welcome you with open arms,” Gearhart told the high school seniors before they peppered him with questions on topics including the quality of UA’s architecture school (ranked highly nationally, Gearhart responded proudly) and support for students looking to start their own businesses.

In interviews, however, students spoke of financial uncertainty about attending UA.

“The problem is, I’m waiting on my financial aid; but I know this has been my first choice since my junior year,” said Crystal Hall.

The memorandum of understanding has been in the works since November 2012, Charpentier said, and it states that UA “to the extent possible” will provide what’s known as “gap funding” to cover the difference between grants and the cost of attending college.

Charpentier said the agreement took so long because of efforts to find a funding source to help students. Those funds will come from a $2.1 million Walton Family Foundation gift announced in December that is not mentioned in the memorandum agreement.

The Walton gift will provide scholarships to up to six eligible KIPP students. Funds from the gift also will support scholarships for approximately 10 additional students yearly from other open-enrollment charter schools elsewhere in the state or other public schools in Phillips County, where Helena-West Helena is located, said Leslie Yingling, director of UA’s College Access Initiative.

The scholarships will require students to maintain a 3.0 minimum cumulative GPA, Yingling said - one more stringent than Arkansas Academic Lottery Challenge scholarships, which require a 2.5 GPA.

But the scholarship money, while not a fixed amount, would be renewable for four years and potentially leave students without debt, Yingling said.

Part of the agreement with UA also stipulates several other ways the university and KIPP will work together, including pre-college outreach activities and a “college ambassadors” program involving work study funding to support a KIPP graduate enrolled at UA helping other KIPP students there.

KIPP students in Blytheville will also be eligible for scholarships but, right now, none is old enough to go to college, Charpentier said. A KIPP high school will open there in the fall.

In both Helena-West Helena and Blytheville, KIPP schools enroll more than 1,000 students, with about 88 percent of them qualifying for free or reduced-price meals. Statewide, about 61 percent of students qualify for such meals.

KIPP, which stands for Knowledge is Power Program, has charter schools in 20 states and similar partnerships with dozens of colleges and universities.

Charpentier said KIPP also has college partnerships in place with two other Arkansas colleges, the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia.

Statewide, about 24 percent of black full-time students seeking a bachelor’s degree earn one within six years, according to Complete College America, a national nonprofit group working to increase college graduation rates. That rate is well below the 38 percent six-year graduation rate for all full-time students in Arkansas.

Charpentier said an agreement with UA was sought because of its focus on retention and graduation of students. The most recent UA data sorted by race and ethnicity show a 54 percent six-year graduation rate for black students.

The memorandum states a “partnership objective” to graduate 70 percent of KIPP alumni within six years of their enrollment. Currently, UA has about a 60 percent graduation rate for all full time freshmen but has set a goal of 70 percent by 2021.

PDF icon UA KIPP Article ADG.pdf

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