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E. Kinney Zalesne reveals how College Summit since its inception has used evaluation techniques that correspond to the different stages of the program’s development.

The College Summit program is based on the premise that many high-potential, low-income students do not attend college because they are unaware of their options and have difficulty navigating the college admissions process. The program seeks to remedy this situation with three core components, all designed to improve the college-going culture in low-income schools:

  1. Four-day summer workshops in which the most influential 20% of a high school’s rising seniors—mid-tier performers chosen by their teachers as being “better than their numbers”—complete their college applications. These “peer leaders” return to school their senior year with a plan for college and a confidence that their classmates cannot ignore.
  2. Training and support for high school teachers to help them play the “manager” role that college-experienced parents play in higher-income communities. The combination of trained teachers and peer leaders triggers lasting change in the schools’ culture of postsecondary planning.
  3. Partnerships with colleges who host the workshops, and in return receive early, prescreened portfolios of students most likely to do well on their campuses.

Internal Evaluation
Since its beginning, College Summit has used internal evaluation for continuous improvement and to track program performance. All workshop students and staff rate the workshops on various dimensions. Ratings are used formatively to improve workshop content and process. Data over time have shown improvement in workshop ratings, especially where curricular changes have been made.

The program also tracks college enrollment and retention. Student participants are contacted the fall after high school graduation to determine if they have enrolled in college. Once enrollment is determined, 50 percent of college enrollees from each workshop are randomly selected, and students’ registrars at their respective colleges are contacted to assess college retention, defined as persistence toward graduation. Internal evaluation data reveal that about 80 percent of participants who graduate from high school enroll in college, and retention rates average about 80 percent.

External Evaluation
Now that the program has had time to develop, two separate external evaluations in Chicago and California are examining program impact.

Both evaluations will examine the impact of College Summit on the college-going culture of participating schools. The Chicago evaluation, being conducted by Public/Private Ventures,¹ has already helped guide College Summit toward a more structured, school-day implementation of its senior-year curriculum. Ultimately, the summative evaluation will compare the college enrollment and retention rates of participating high schools before and after College Summit’s intervention.

Similarly, the California evaluation² will measure the program’s impact on whole schools’ college enrollment and retention. Once the model is fully implemented, entire senior classes’ enrollment and retention data will be tracked over time and compared to baseline data.

¹ The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the U.S. Department of Education are funding the first stage of the Chicago evaluation.

² The James Irvine Foundation is funding the California evaluation.

E. Kinney Zalesne
President and General Counsel
College Summit
2600 Virginia Ave., NW, Ste. 303
Washington, DC 20037
Tel: 202-965-1222

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Published by Harvard Family Research Project