For young Black men, the journey to attaining a college degree is anything but easy. Nationally, only about one third of Black males attain a bachelor's degree within six years of enrolling in college. While surveying the landscape and statistics as our inaugural graduating class headed toward commencement, we realized immediately that in order to hold true to our efforts to create social change and increase the opportunities for young Black men, it was imperative to create something that would extend and expand upon the comprehensive supports that our schools offered students.
Access and Persistence
Our reflective planning led to the creation of the Urban Prep Alumni Program, a college access and persistence program aimed at increasing the number of our alumni who enroll in and complete college. Designed to provide the support necessary for Urban Prep graduates to successfully enroll in college and bolster their efforts to make steady progress toward attaining a degree, the program offers aggressive interventions by three full-time, dedicated staff members to help our alumni persist in school.
We begin to work with our students during their senior year while they are in the midst of the college application process. We bring in alumni for panels and discussions about their current experiences in college. These sessions are extremely important as they give our seniors the perspective of someone who was very recently in their shoes. The alumni stories are relatable and prove to the seniors that they, too, can achieve success in college.
The time immediately after our commencement ceremony is critical for us, as the Alumni Program's success depends on ensuring our students do not succumb to "summer melt," the phenomenon in which students leave high school with college plans, but never actually make it to college. For urban areas across the country, summer melt can be as high as 40%. One way that we combat this is by hosting summer gatherings for the graduating class to make sure that students are on track with their college registration, have transportation to college, and have a plan for paying for college. These events, as well as our other interventions, result in Urban Prep's college enrollment rate of 94%, exceeding district, state, and national averages.
The Alumni and Fellows Programs
Once graduates arrive on their college campuses, they can rely on their department for various supports including connecting students with on-campus resources for academic and emotional support, guidance in course selection, and consistent communication. Throughout the school year, they receive frequent outreach from the Alumni Program, including check-in contacts once a month and important news via email and the alumni Facebook page. We also host an annual Winter Gathering, attended by Urban Prep faculty members as well as alumni, to promote connectedness with each other and with Urban Prep.
Additionally, the Alumni Program works to build and sustain invaluable partnerships with college administrators, enabling us to closely track our alumni's academic progress and proactively identify and overcome potential barriers to post-secondary support. These supports, coupled with our young men's ability, intelligence, and grit, account for why 72% of Urban Prep graduates persist in college -- a rate that's 25 percentage points higher than the Black male district average.
In keeping with our efforts to create opportunities for young Black men, seeing members of our inaugural class beginning to attain bachelor's degrees inspired us to create the Urban Prep Fellows Program. Eleven Urban Prep alumni who have earned college degrees work in this program as tutors, mentors, student recruiters, and staff within our organization. The Fellows Program's goal is preparing our graduates for long-term employment and meaningful careers while also affording them the opportunity to positively impact and strengthen the communities from which they come.
For many of our graduates, the Alumni and Fellows Programs are the difference between earning a college degree and becoming another negative statistic. I vividly remember flying down to Atlanta, Georgia for a meeting with one college's faculty to advocate on behalf of an Urban Prep alumnus when his grade point average dipped hundredths of a point below what was required in order for him to keep his scholarship. If not for someone acting on his behalf, it is unfortunately very likely that he would not be a college graduate and a member of the Urban Prep Fellows program today. I truly believe that Urban Prep graduates need just a bit of support to achieve success. The Urban Prep Alumni Program strives to provide exactly that support.