In an effort to raise college graduation rates for underserved students, Penn has established a partnership with the Knowledge is Power Program, a nationwide public charter school program.

Through this partnership, announced by the University on March 16, Penn will reserve 12 to 15 spots in its future admitted classes for KIPP students each year. “KIPP kids still need to meet admission requirements,” KIPP Executive Director Marc Mannella said. “There will be no watering down for them.”

According to Mannella, one of KIPP’s reasons for partnering with Penn is its need-blind admissions policy, which means that for KIPP students, financial aid will not be an obstacle.

“Before the first day of school, we talk to kids about their goals and promise both them and their parents that if they work their hardest, they will have the opportunity to not only go to but through college,” Mannella said. “We know that we have to do something to skew the odds in favor of our KIPP kids, so we started working on partnerships with colleges.”

“KIPP made a promise to get us to college and they are holding up their end of the bargain,” rising College senior and KIPP Gaston College Prepatory graduate Chevon Boone said. “Coming from a low-income, rural town, it’s unheard of to even consider an Ivy League education, but now it may be out of the ordinary but definitely not out of reach.”

KIPP’s connection to Penn dates back to 1994, when 1991 College graduate Mike Feinberg co-founded the organization with Dave Levin in Houston.

“More KIPPsters are going to have the opportunity to experience an education at Penn like I had 20 years ago,” Feinberg said. “We’ve been working on this since the beginning, so this partnership solidifies and memorializes a lot of things we have already been doing.”

While Penn is the tenth university to partner with KIPP, it is the first among the Ivy League to do so.

Penn has longstanding ties with KIPP Philadelphia schools, located at 2709 N. Broad St., through various volunteer programs. “KIPP pushes college and encourages its students to stay in the program,” rising College senior and KIPP volunteer Amanda Johnson said. “But through this partnership Penn will keep an eye on the kids once the path is laid out and they are in college.”

In 18 years, KIPP has expanded to 109 schools with 33,000 students across the country. KIPP Philadelphia schools, founded by Mannella, currently enroll 931 students in Philadelphia and plan to grow from its current four schools to 10 schools serving over 4,000 students.

Inspiring and preparing students to go to college is a key goal for the KIPP program. “This immediate connection to college starts as early as day one of kindergarten,” Mannella said. “The name of a kid’s homeroom is where his teacher went to college and each grade is referred to as their college graduating class.”

For Mannella, this mission is particularly important in light of national trends in college completion. United States Census data indicates that while 30 percent of all Americans between the ages of 25 and 29 years old possess a college degree, only 8 percent of students in that same age range in the bottom socioeconomic quartile have completed college, he said.

However, the KIPP program is working to combat those statistics. According to Mannella, thirty-six percent of KIPP students have earned a college degree after completing eighth grade at a KIPP middle school. He added that through partnerships with schools like Penn, KIPP plans to achieve 75 percent college graduation rates for its students.

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