Benchmarking Report Member Profile: I Know I Can

December 18, 2014

This week, NCAN released Closing the Graduation Gap: 2014 National College Access and Success Benchmarking Report, the first of an annual series. In this report, NCAN, working with the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, examines the outcomes of students served by NCAN members. Additionally, the report profiles five NCAN members who submitted data for the Benchmarking Project. This week, NCAN’s blog will highlight these five members even further through a more in-depth look. Today we examine I Know I Can.

Columbus, Ohio’s I Know I Can (IKIC) is notable for a few different reasons. First, the program is a founding member of NCAN. Second, it has arguably one of the closest relationships with a particular school district of any college access program nationally. Through a wide range of services, I Know I Can serves students in every Columbus City middle and high school.

IKIC offers services along a broad spectrum from college awareness in sixth grade through college success initiatives. From 6th to 9th grades, the program’s aim is to increase the pipeline of students for high school and college. AmeriCorps college guides managed four to five schools each, and their responsibility is to influence attitudes, beliefs, and knowledge about collegiate possibilities. The key student intervention in these grades is the use of Naviance’s college and career introduction curriculum  

The middle school years also include significant parent outreach. IKIC works to recruit about 2,000 families to the Blueprint College workshop through three annual cohorts. Getting these 2,000 families is a “hard number to reach” according to IKIC because there are only about 9,000 middle school families in Columbus. 60 percent of recruited families participate in the Blueprint College workshops, but 90 percent of those participants go on to complete the workshop’s curriculum. Ideally, parent recruitment could be spurred by reaching out to 4th and 5th grade families and getting them to sign up in 6th grade, but “it’s a capacity issue” as there are 74 elementary schools in the district.

At the high school level, IKIC has five full-time college advisors and just six AmeriCorps college guides for all 21 Columbus high schools. College guides work with 9th and 10th grade students where the focus is the Naviance Succeed curriculum, which includes career interest inventories and laying the groundwork for attending college. Meanwhile full-time staff work with 11th and 12th grade students on ACT and SAT preparation and the mechanics of admissions and financial aid. AmeriCorps guides will jump in during the peak seasons of senior year in order to help students and families understand their financial aid award letters. Parent engagement continues at the high school level as well with another round of Project Blueprint workshops for about 400 parents of 9-11th grade students.

Once students are accepted, IKIC holds a pre-orientation to college orientation, which focuses on what to expect when students receive their bills and to understand what happens when they set foot on-campus. This is especially important for those who attend community college and have no orientation.

IKIC is currently reworking their success/retention/completion side programming, which provides services to students on college campuses. Although this programming started with basic advising, check-ins, and FAFSA renewal and support completion, it evolved to a more structured retention model. This model includes pre-enrollment kick-off events at campuses with large numbers of IKIC students, a “lunch and learn” series, workshops, and peer mentoring. Sophomore or junior college students receiving IKIC grants would call students to check in. Additionally, an attempt is made to make an education plan for every postsecondary student served by IKIC.

The reworking comes from the implementation of a mentoring system from Chronus (which is also being employed by College Now Greater Cleveland, another NCAN member profiled in the report). In the first year under the Chronus platform, the focus is on retention and persistence services. AmeriCorps members are assigned campuses and are conducting phone and email correspondence in addition to hosting select on-campus office hours.

In addition to all of these services, IKIC also distributes scholarships. This $1,200 scholarship is given to all students who are Pell eligible, have a 2.25 high school GPA or higher, are enrolled full-time, and re-apply each year. Once enrolled in college, the GPA requirement moves to 2.0. A smaller cohort of students receives the Founders’ Scholarship, with which students with unmet need can receive up to $10,000 per year for four years. This scholarship is awarded through a competitive application process that requires a personal statement, letters of recommendation, a 3.0 high school GPA, and continuous enrollment in Columbus through high school AW: “It’s not always the kids with the highest academic potential…attention is given to whether the student shows the ability to thrive in that situation and the motivation,” says Amy Wade, IKIC’s Director of Early Awareness and Grants.

It is important to remember that all of these services occur along with IKIC’s relationship with the school district. There is a significant contract with Columbus City Schools for provision of services, and this relationship has lasted over the course of 25 years and eight or nine superintendents. IKIC managed to stay the course with the district despite these changes. One obstacle moving forward for IKIC is capacity, as it is for many NCAN members. Although a recent strategic plan which contacted stakeholders revealed that IKIC’s all-around advising and 1-on-1 advising are both effective and appreciated, a concern was that there are not enough 1-on-1 advisors for all the students who need attention. “Where we’re headed is something/somewhere that’s much more intentional and more of a key role in the college/career counseling,” says Katina Fullen, IKIC’s Executive Director. Moving forward and helping Columbus students achieve their postsecondary ambitions, IKIC will continue to work to find ways to maintain its current bevy of services while expanding them to more students.

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