Transcripts

DCPS Seeks To Remove Barriers To College For Low-Income Students

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:10
I'm Rebecca Sheir. And welcome back to "Metro Connection." As we continue this week's "Barriers" show, we'll focus next on the barriers that sometimes keep low-income students from going to college. The D.C. public schools are making a big push to get kids ready for that next step after high school graduation. And Kavitha Cardoza joins us now to talk about those efforts. Hi, Kavitha.

MS. KAVITHA CARDOZA

00:00:29
Hi, Rebecca. So, it kind of goes without saying that applying to college can be very intimidating. Right? All that paperwork, so many colleges, so confusing. Students from higher income backgrounds are prepared for college a lot earlier. Here's President Barack Obama talking about his daughters' experiences.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA

00:00:48
Malia and Sasha, by the time they're in seventh grade at Sidwell School here, are already getting all kinds of advice, and this and that and the other.

CARDOZA

00:00:57
By contrast, the President says only 30 percent of low-income students enroll in college right after high school, and by their mid-20s only 9 percent earn a bachelor's degree. There are a lot more barriers for students who are low income. I spoke about this with Kevin Hudson in the DCPS Office of College and Career Readiness. He says sometimes students haven't even heard of certain universities.

MR. KEVIN HUDSON

00:01:22
What may be seen as a highly selective, world famous institution, often are not known by students. If you haven't had a college going experience at those types of institutions, it's hard to grasp what they may offer. Because it's an acquired language.

SHEIR

00:01:38
So then what are D.C. public schools doing to better prepare these students?

CARDOZA

00:01:42
They're getting started a lot earlier. They encourage teachers to talk to students early on about college and in some third grade classrooms, you can see college pennants on the walls. But at the high school level, they're training guidance counselors. Cornell University recently conducted a workshop here to explain what admissions officers are looking for. DCPS is also inviting universities, including Princeton, MIT and Brown, to host receptions in city high schools. And school officials are encouraging high school students and their parents to attend workshops to learn about the admissions process.

HUDSON

00:02:17
It's a scary, scary process and so the more that we can make sure in all of our schools, from kindergarten through 12th grade, there's conversation about the college application process we demystify the process and make it something attainable for students. Our students say throughout their time that they want to go to college, but a lot of times it's in the how that there becomes a disconnect.

CARDOZA

00:02:43
Another way D.C. is trying to prepare more students for college is by trying to get more of them to take AP exams. All traditional public schools in D.C. now offer at least four AP courses, and the District pays student exam fees. A recent report from the College Board shows some of those efforts are paying off. For the first time, the District is ranked number one in the country for access to AP courses and of the students taking those courses, a third are African American.

SHEIR

00:03:12
Well, that sounds like a real success story.

CARDOZA

00:03:14
Well, it's not all positive news, though, Rebecca. Because just 14 percent of graduating seniors in 2013 passed an AP exam during their high school years.

SHEIR

00:03:24
But when so many students fail the exam, doesn't that just feed into their own fears that maybe, you know, they're not good enough, college just isn't for them?

CARDOZA

00:03:33
That's exactly what I asked Kaya Henderson, the chancellor of DC Public Schools. She says it does not.

MS. KAYA HENDERSON

00:03:39
Prior to our push to get more and more kids into AP, children -- especially low-income children and children of color -- weren't even getting the opportunity to try. And for a lot of young people, just having a teacher believe in you enough to say, "I think you can do this," has a transformative effect. And we have to teach our young people that even if they can't conquer an obstacle the first time that they have to be persistent.

CARDOZA

00:04:06
Trevor Packer, with the College Board, says across the country 300,000 students could take AP courses but don't. These students are ready for them academically, but they just feel they aren't good enough or are discouraged from taking them. You know, sometimes teachers and guidance counselors themselves don't know about what's out there or they have low expectations of their students. But Packer says this is a big mistake.

MR. TREVOR PACKER

00:04:31
Students that do rise to the level of achieving a score of 3 or better on an AP exam have significantly higher college completion rates than their matched peers, which makes sense. They've been given college on training wheels, in some ways, in high school, to get them ready for what they're going to face as a freshman when they have so many other distractions on campus. They've been given this experience that results in scholarship decisions -- 33 percent of colleges and universities base scholarship decisions on AP.

CARDOZA

00:04:59
And of course, if you are academically prepared for college, chances are you can graduate in four years.

SHEIR

00:05:04
Which, I understand, is not the case for more than half of students who are entering college.

CARDOZA

00:05:08
Exactly.

SHEIR

00:05:09
Well, Kavitha Cardoza, thank you so much for this update on what's happening in D.C. public schools.

CARDOZA

00:05:14
Thanks for having me.

SHEIR

00:05:15
This report is part of "American Graduate: Let's Make It Happen," a public media initiative to address the dropout crisis, supported by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. And we're curious, what do you think is the best way to get students ready for college-level work? You can reach us at metro@wamu.org or find us on Twitter. Our handle is @wamumetro.
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