Analysis

KIPP Launches First-Of-Its-Kind Alumni Network to Help Its 30K Graduates With Careers, Mental Health and Finances

By Richard Whitmire | October 13, 2020

The newly launched KIPP National Alumni Network grew out of a huge gathering of KIPP alumni in Houston last year. (Colin Pieters, KIPP New Jersey alumni)

A first-of-its-kind alumni network for K-12 KIPP charter school graduates launches today, drawing on its unique national alumni base of 30,000 students that’s expected to grow to 80,000 by 2025.

The National KIPP Alumni Network offers both alum-to-alum support as well as outside professional guidance. The three external players in the network programs, financed by California-based Crankstart Foundation, are:

  • The Braven Career Booster Program, a two-week virtual career guidance bootcamp. The course will be free for KIPP alumni (classes of 2018, 2019, and 2020). It covers topics including building your LinkedIn, interviewing for jobs and how to network.
  • YUPRO, a placement and coaching organization specializing in historically underrepresented talent, will create a pilot program focused on supporting KIPP alumni who do not have a college degree with coaching and job placement. Eligible alumni must have at least two years of full-time work experience to apply for the program.
  • AYANA Mental Health will provide free mental health counseling services for alumni. The pilot starts with 300 alumni, who will have four free virtual counseling sessions per month. If the program works, it will expand. The sessions are designed to reach students who have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19 and experienced trauma from the recent police shootings of Black men and women nationwide.

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The idea for the network arose from a huge gathering of KIPP alumni a year ago in Houston. KIPP, which was launched in Houston in 1994, now operates 255 schools serving more than 100,000 students across the country.

“We found out that our college graduates were coming out of college and not landing jobs, or not landing jobs that helped them move up,” said Nancy Kyei, manager of KIPP’s Alumni Impact Team, which oversees the effort. “They were finding jobs, but not careers. It’s tough because our graduates don’t have a network of family and friends that generations of affluent students have had coming out of college.”

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A survey of close to 5,000 KIPP alumni revealed their priorities: How to connect to successful people in their field, how to turn entrepreneurial ideas into businesses, how to advance in their careers, how to manage their finances and access to mental health resources. More than half said they would like to mentor another student from KIPP.

Some alums are already receiving support.

Sara Aranda, who graduated in 2017 from the University of North Texas with an accounting degree, works as an accountant for Pecan Grove Farms & Nursery at their Dallas headquarters. Aranda attended the Houston KIPP alumni gathering and signed up for a Managing Your Finances series offered within the network.

Sara Aranda

Why would an accountant need help with finances? Aranda, whose parents brought her to the United States from Mexico when she was 6 years old, is in the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program. Only Spanish was spoken at home, and for understandable reasons her parents avoided banks. Even a college degree can’t make up for some deficits.

After the virtual seminars, she started a spreadsheet that keeps track of every expense, made some stock market investments, drew up a plan to buy a house and has plans for graduate school. The course was taught by a KIPP alum.

“Hearing from someone like me who has done it made me feel like I can do it too,” Aranda said.

Two decades ago, the leaders of pioneering charter schools such as KIPP, Uncommon Schools, Noble Street and YES Prep had a radical vision: We can build schools that will dramatically boost the number of low-income, minority students getting into college.

Great idea, and it worked — sort of. The problem they discovered was that students getting accepted at colleges is not the same as showing up for freshman year classes, and that getting through freshman and sophomore years is not the same as actually graduating.

So those same charter leaders turned their work toward boosting degree-earning rates, again with mostly successful results, as least compared to their counterparts from traditional high schools. The charter students were earning bachelor’s degrees at rates two to four times what might be expected.

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Problem solved? Not exactly, which led to the KIPP Alumni Network. As laid out in my recent book, The B.A. Breakthrough, being a first-generation student earning a college degree doesn’t lead to the kind of career pathways that graduates from affluent families find. The lack of good internships during college left them with little job experience, and the lack of influential personal networks (mothers and fathers who contact other mothers and fathers to secure those crucial first-chance jobs) left them with a networking disadvantage.

David Segura, a KIPP alum from Austin, graduated from the University of Texas, Austin, in May and has yet to find a job in his field, marketing. Unlike a lot of KIPP students in college, Segura had summer job internships, but none in his field, which is hampering his search. Employers, he said, want marketing experience. It doesn’t help that he’s entering the workforce in the midst of a pandemic.

Over the summer, Segura participated in a Braven program. “I was able to get tips on how I should format my resume, how I should update it on LinkedIn, and how to prepare for interviews. It made me feel a lot more confident.”

Disclosure: Walton Family Foundation, The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Carnegie Corporation of New York provide financial support to KIPP and The 74.

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