Greater Texas Foundation has supported United for College Success since its founding in 2013. The initiative is unique in that it brings together charter management organizations and independent school districts to share data and best practices with each other with the goal to improve their students’ transition to and persistence in college. Learn more in this update, provided by UFCS Project Coordinator Bonnie Casson-Deweese and Data Specialist Danielle Callendar.

Founded in 2013, United for College Success (UFCS) developed with the goal of increasing college persistence and completion of Texas’s historically underrepresented college students. What was initially a coalition of five member districts expanded to eleven, serving over 380,000 high school and college-age students throughout the state. Our partners include a variety of districts with varied and individualized needs. Representing approximately 10 percent of the graduating class of the state of Texas, our 11 members represent the complex diversity that makes Texas so unique. Our partners include: KIPP Houston Public Schools (managing partner), Harmony Public Schools, Houston ISD, IDEA Public Schools, KIPP Austin, KIPP Dallas-Fort Worth, KIPP San Antonio, Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD, Spring Branch ISD, UPLIFT Education, and YES Prep Public Schools.

The mission of UFCS is focused exclusively on increasing college persistence and completion rates for low-income and underrepresented students attending colleges and universities in Texas. Central to achieving our mission is an emphasis on data and collaboration. All of our coalition members commit time and resources to tracking students’ college outcomes beginning with the ninth-graders in the Class of 2012 (enrolled in Fall 2008). Our commitment to aligning on this shared denominator and other key metrics allows us to share best practices for supporting our alumni. Additionally, UFCS adopts a data-driven approach in creating effective student programming such as a joint peer-to-peer college mentor programs for all UFCS college alumni at key Texas colleges and universities. We firmly believe that, by working together, UFCS partners can make significant progress toward closing the college completion gap for underserved students across Texas. 

UFCS represents an alternative approach to measuring our school systems through the success of alumni. Instead of focusing on high school as an end to school district involvement, UFCS works to assist school districts in supporting alumni engagement and using college success as another data point on the report cards of our schools. The coalition's efforts also serve as an example to schools and school districts of how we can increase college completion rates. Moreover, UFCS serves as a bridge for its members, helping them to engage with higher education partners. Through sharing our collective data insights, UFCS can build impactful relationships with our two- and four-year colleges in terms of partnerships, programming, and policy. Creating deeper college partnerships for our members will help us to leverage these relationships to the benefit of our students as they progress to and through college.  

UFCS represents a unique opportunity for school districts wishing to improve their college graduation rates, alumni tracking, data integrity, and relationships with other districts and institutions of higher education. Never before has an organization like UFCS united charter management organizations (CMOs) and independent school districts (ISDs) across the state of Texas. UFCS shows that collaboration between school districts—charter and traditional—can exist and that through sharing best practices we can improve the chances of college success for our most vulnerable students.

UFCS continues to show that this kind of bridge-building can be further replicated throughout the state in differing capacities. UFCS has found that the partners with the greatest impact have a willingness to adopt a data-driven approach to their persistence work as well as the ability and desire to track their students post-graduation. As UFCS is focused on persistence only, there is room for further collaboration between CMOs and ISDs in terms of college access and K-12 curriculum. This does, however, require further and deeper relationships in terms of data-sharing and defining a better way of sharing said data. UFCS shows that this movement toward a better way of tracking data and ensuring persistence is essential to the success of our students.

For our students affected by this project, the impact will be significant: college graduates are more likely to earn more, have steadier employment, vote more, volunteer more, be healthier, and use public assistance less than people without a college degree. Over the course of a lifetime, a college graduate will earn $1 million more than a high school graduate and $1.2 million more than a high school dropout. By increasing alumni persistence and therefore graduation rates, it is our aim to provide our alumni with these greater life opportunities and to ensure that Texas has an educated workforce to fill the jobs of tomorrow.