Another Big Grant to Help Low-Income Students Be College-Ready

It seems as if every funder involved in K-12 or higher education is interested in projects designed to make more students college-ready. Over the last few years, foundations large and small have taken out their checkbooks to fund programs and projects aimed at preparing more low-income, minority, and first-generation college students for postsecondary success.

The latest example comes from the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, which joined forces with one of the country's most successful programs at preparing students for college. Dell awarded the International Baccalaureate (IB) $1.3 million to find interventions designed to increase the number of low-income students who enroll and succeed in the IB Diploma Program. IB itself contributed an additional $300,000 of its own to fund the project.

IB is just the kind of outfit that the metric-obsessed Dell Foundation loves. IB's rigorous, research-based high school curriculum has been successful at preparing students from all backgrounds for postsecondary success.

Research has found that 88 percent of students who graduate high school with an IB diploma earn a college degree within six years, compared to 58 percent of other high school graduates. This may account for the growing popularity of IB programs in U.S. high schools—and not just elite ones. More than 90 percent of IB schools in the U.S. are public, and nearly half are Title I schools.

In the last five years, the number of low-income students participating in the IB diploma program has nearly doubled.

The Dell-funded project will involve five IB high schools in Georgia, California, New York, and Texas, each of which will receive funding for direct services aimed at increasing the number of low-income students participating in the IB diploma program. The selected schools have low-income student populations of at least 35 percent.

Quite apart from IB's impressive numbers, this type of program fits perfectly with the Dell Foundation's education priorities. The Austin-based funder's urban education program accounts for about two-thirds of its total giving. Its U.S. giving emphasizes the use of academically rigorous programs, such as IB and Advanced Placement, to better prepare students for college-level work.

Further, the funder's college readiness priorities go beyond academic preparation. Dell also is interested in addressing financial barriers to college entrance, as well as wrap-around services that address family and home life issues affecting college students, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds.