J.B. Schramm, College Summit's founder, often points out that students from low-income families who achieve A's on standardized tests go to college at the same rate as their higher income peers who earn D's on the same tests. Schramm has struggled with this reality for most of his life. "I attended inner-city schools in Denver, and I went through with the same group of buddies from elementary to junior to senior high," he explains. "I assumed that we would all go to college together. But we didn't. And the issue wasn't that they weren't college-going material. The issue was that my parents had gone to college and their parents hadn't. I relied on my parents to get through this process, and they relied on a system that didn't work."
In 1993, Schramm was the director of a teen center located in the basement of a low-income housing project in Washington, DC. Each year he watched talented kids graduate from high school and move on to the street instead of college. Schramm became determined to help college admissions offices see these students the way he saw them. He enlisted the best writing instructors and urban youth workers he could find, and together they designed a system to help bright, low-income students, who, with the right support, could propel themselves into college. They called the program College Summit.
Mobilizing Schools and Students for College Enrollment
Today, College Summit is a national nonprofit organization that partners with low-income school districts to dramatically increase college enrollment rates by building a college-going culture and giving students the support they need to go on to college. College Summit provides partner high schools with the strategy and tools necessary to introduce a post-secondary planning curriculum for the full senior class. The program then trains teachers and counselors to lead the course effectively and to help students connect the dots between their future goals and daily academic work.
Data management is also an innovative component of College Summit's work with schools. College Summit has developed a comprehensive system for measuring leading post-secondary indicators that can help spot if a student is off-track as well as reliably measure what students do after they graduate (e.g., their college enrollment rate). Educators and school leaders are trained on how to use, interpret, and act on ongoing data.
However, as Schramm explains, the "secret sauce" for success is the program's trained student influencers. Partner districts nominate rising seniors to attend an intense four-day college application workshop held at a nearby college during the summer before their senior year. At the workshop, students learn to write an effective personal statement, apply for financial aid, and self-advocate, all of which emphasize that college is well within their grasp. Armed with these experiences, students return to their schools and spread their expertise and enthusiasm for college, helping to build a college-going culture among their peers.
Growing the Solution School-Wide
To date, College Summit has partnered with 170 high schools, trained more than 9,500 student influencers, and this school year, is impacting the futures of 25,000 students in 12 states and the District of Columbia. On average, partner school districts have increased their school-wide college enrollment by 15 percent, while some schools, like College Summit's partners in St. Louis, have seen a 20 percent increase in college enrollment rates. As Schramm continues to lead College Summit as the organization's CEO, he has established plans for the organization's next phase of growth, which will include expanding new programs for students in ninth through eleventh grades. This new strategy will enable College Summit to maximize its impact, and will help to create a school-wide solution to improving college access for low-income students.