September 17, 2009

YES Prep: College Knowledge for College Success

This case study explores the “nuts and bolts” of how YES Prep Public Schools, a charter organization based in Houston, Texas, succeeds in preparing low-income students not only to graduate from high school, but also to enter college ready to meet the challenges of a post-secondary education.

“We align our resources with the mission of four-year college graduation for every single student, not an elite few.”
Chris Barbic, Founder and Head of Schools

The job of preparing a low-income minority student, who is most likely the first in his or her family to consider college as an option, is no small feat. The job of doing this for every student in the school appears monumental when one considers that less than 33 percent of low-income students in the United States actually make it to college. [3] Most public schools focus their college-going efforts on an elite few students who appear most promising. The goal at YES Prep is to prepare every student for college graduation, and the organization’s college-counseling approach is designed with the entire college experience in mind, from choosing the right school to attend and securing the necessary financial resources, to accessing support in the collegiate environment to ensure persistence and, ultimately, graduation.

Low-income and minority students face a range of risk factors in accessing college and in attaining a degree (see the sidebar below; and for a deep exploration of the college access risk factors, see the article, “Reclaiming the American Dream”). YES Prep’s leaders studied these key risk factors and designed both their educational approach and college counseling program with those factors in mind. College counseling at YES explicitly includes four components:

  • Academic Preparation – Providing the most rigorous academic program possible
  • “Aha” Moments – Demystifying the college process for students and their families
  • Right School Choices for You – Matching students with schools that will set them up for success 
  • Getting to the Finish Line – Promoting persistence through ongoing support

The success of YES Prep's approach requires the capacity to provide hands-on, personalized support to each student. A full-time Director of College Initiatives makes a core investment in supporting college counseling staff at each established campus. (Total personnel costs are around $500,000 per campus, equivalent to 10 percent of the campus budget or approximately $1,250 per high school student per year. This investment is built into YES Prep's school sustainability model and will eventually be supported by public funding.) For example, YES Prep’s Southeast campus employs a director of college counseling, two college counselors, and a student opportunities coordinator to guide students through the college process. Using the experience of YES Prep Southeast, the YES Prep team has defined guardrails to ensure that the keys to success for each core component can be replicated at each new campus, while still leaving room for program localization to fit the unique needs of different school cultures and student populations.

College Success Risk Factors

  • Lack of academic preparation
  • Lack of knowledge about college admissions, matriculation, and graduation
  • Lack of understanding about available financial support
  • Lack of emotional preparation and family support
  • Under-utilization of college resources


Next: Academic Preparation >> 

[3] William Bedsworth, Susan J. Colby, Joe Doctor, "Reclaiming the American Dream," October 2006: Data derived from NELS data updated with high school graduation rate data from Urban Institute, Manhattan Institute, and NCES.
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