By Maria Saporta
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has awarded a total of $622,000 in grants to Achieve Atlanta and the Atlanta Public Schools to support their efforts for college success.
One grant for $532,000 will go to the Network for School Improvement. That will enable Achieve Atlanta to work with the APS data team to build a technical platform that will allow students to identify good “match and fit” colleges while they are in high school.
A student makes a good “match” when he or she enrolls in an institution whose average attendee is at or above that student’s high school academic profile. Finding a good “fit” includes assessing factors like affordability, school culture, location, and the availability of programs aligned to a student’s interests.
The grant will also support school counselors and other school staff to use the tool and other data to provide more specialized college advising for high school students, according to a news release issued Tuesday morning.
In addition, the Gates Foundation has awarded APS a $90,000 grant to provide professional development and training to school counselors on the importance of “match and fit” to students’ college success.
The investment is important because research shows that students who enroll in a good “match and fit” college are more likely to persist and earn a degree.
The grants will help also further the Achieve Atlanta and APS partnership to help more APS students earn a post-secondary degree or credential.
Since the start of the partnership in 2015, the percentage of APS students enrolling in a post-secondary program after high school graduation has increased by nearly 10 percentage points. Also, more students are receiving accessing federal aid, like Pell grants.
And through Achieve Atlanta’s need-based scholarship, more than 1,500 APS graduates are getting the Achieve Atlanta scholarships to help pay for college.
“Creating a college-going culture and match and fit are critical components of our district’s college readiness strategy,” said Dr. Meria J. Carstarphen, superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools. “The deep investments provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Achieve Atlanta will be key in helping us create effective, data-driven strategies and interventions so APS students will successfully enroll in post-secondary institutions and have the appropriate support to persist and graduate.”
Achieve Atlanta was one of 19 organizations in 12 states to receive grants from the Gates foundation for its Network for School Improvement Grant. More than 500 organizations from across the country initially applied for the program.
The Gates Foundation launched the grant application process asking for organizations to show how they would significantly increase the number of Black, Latino and low-income students who earn a high school diploma, enroll in a postsecondary institution, and stay on track to earn a credential with labor-market value.
“We are thrilled to receive this grant to be able to continue our work with APS,” said Korynn Schooley, Achieve Atlanta’s vice president of College Access. “We have seen more APS graduates enrolling in college over the past couple of years, and this grant will help push to the next critical factor – ensuring students are enrolling in colleges where they will persist and earn a credential.”
In a separate application process, the Gates Foundation awarded “To and Through Advising Challenge” grants to about 20 school systems to provide, including APS. The grant will allow APS to continue to build district and school staff capacity and continue to shift the focus from college access to college completion.
APS will also strengthen a college success culture with students and parents. Funds will support training for all school counselors and college advisors and counselor participation in a national community of practice where they can learn and share best practices.
Founded in 2015, Achieve Atlanta has partnered with two nonprofits – College Advising Corps (CAC) and OneGoal – to address the low college completion rate among APS graduates.
The partnership began by aligning on a common vision for college success for all APS students—whether a certification in a trade, an associate’s degree, or bachelor’s degree.
At the time the partnership launched, the college enrollment rate was 51 percent. Two years later, 60 percent of graduates are enrolling in college.
A cornerstone of the partnership has been the use of data to drive actions. Using an interactive data dashboard created by APS’s Data and Information Group, partners can track progress on college access targets.
The data can be viewed at the district, school, and individual student level, allowing stakeholders to track progress and determine how to prioritize resources. The dashboards have been critical to helping College Access Teams at each high school implement continuous improvement cycles where they review data, determine root causes for obstacles, and pilot solutions.
“We recognize that to solve the complex problem of low college enrollment and completion, we must rally around a common vision and hold each other collectively accountable for student outcomes,” says Tina Fernandez, Achieve Atlanta’s executive director. “Ultimately, this is about eliminating income inequality in our city, strengthening our economy, and enabling the upward social mobility of the students we serve.”