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IB4ALL: Underserved Students and University Admissions

Marie Vivas is the IB Americas University Relations Manager. She has overall responsibility for university recognition in the Americas region, working closely with admissions professionals counseling university bound students.

It’s been a couple of weeks since I attended NACAC’s 71st Annual Conference. As always, I come back from this conference inspired by the great work that my colleagues are doing to ensure that students and families are provided with the best information and resources available to help them in the transition from secondary to higher education. I also take great pride in belonging to an organization that “is committed to maintaining high standards that foster ethical and social responsibility among those involved in the transition process, as outlined in the NACAC Statement of Principles of Good Practice (SPGP).

For a great account of this year’s conference read Rachelle’s recap. Today I want to focus on an issue of great importance to all of us in the world of education – promoting access to higher education for underserved students. Whether we are speaking about First Lady Michelle Obama’s Reach Higher Initiative, or the Ecuadorian government’s unprecedented decision to implement the IB Diploma Programme in 500 publicly funded schools, or International ACAC’s Scholars Program, leaders all around the globe are thinking of ways to prepare our most under-resourced youngsters for higher education which, in turn, will bring them out of poverty. At the NACAC Conference there were a wide range of sessions from different perspectives devoted to this topic, but one thing that is clear is that a strong secondary education is the most important factor in college access and success.

The IB is making a difference in the lives of low-income and minority students in public schools all over the United States. US public schools that have low-income student enrollment of 40% or more are designated as Title I Schools and receive federal resources to support learning and development among low-income students to improve academic outcomes. In a recent study entitled “International Baccalaureate programmes in Title I schools in the United States: Accessibility, participation and university enrollment” researchers used data from multiple sources to identify IB students’ post-secondary trajectories.

For me, the most exciting news in this study is the fact that low income students who participate in the IB enroll in college at a 33% higher rate than the national average.

Immediate college enrollment

As I attend professional conferences, visit colleges and universities and meet with IB Coordinators and Counselors, I hear from my colleagues on both sides of the desk that the IB does a great job preparing students for college. The rigor and depth of the curriculum, the focus on critical thinking and communication, the engagement and reflection required in our approaches to learning and teaching, and the global perspective embedded in our courses provide young people with multiple skills to ensure academic success at the next stage of education and beyond.  Beyond the academics, the IB focuses on nurturing and challenging the entire student through our learner profile.

Learner profile

There is a lot of talk in educational circles about grit, persistence, resilience, non-cognitive skills, and many other attributes that contribute to student success. I would say that the IB learner profile, combined with a curriculum that emphasizes both content and skills and encourages thoughtful participation in extracurricular activities, encompasses all of these and provides a true blueprint for success in college and beyond.

In the context of access and equity, what the IB offers underrepresented students is an opportunity to take control of their education and take full advantage of the substantial opportunities for further studies before them. For low-income minority students, participation in the IB significantly increases their college attendance rates.

Immediate college enrollment by race

Once they get to college, IB students are well prepared for research, reflection, communication, and critical thinking. This leads to success in academics. They are also well prepared to manage their time, participate actively in campus life, and seek out further opportunities to grow and become leaders. So, it is always important to think beyond access to university and venture into persistence and graduation rates.

In a study published in February of 2015, Dr. Liz Bergeron concluded that IB Diploma students have retention and graduation rates that are over 20 percent higher than the national averages.

Retention rates

In a soon-to-be-published study, conducted by SRI International, low-income DP students were found to have a six-year graduation rate that is 25 percent higher than the national average.

graduation by income

The research verifies what IB educators and our colleagues in the admissions counseling profession have been saying all along. Whether students are doing the Diploma or the Career-Related Programme, participation in the IB improves every student’s chances of attending college, and graduating in a timely manner. It has a tremendous impact on the success rate for low-income students. For me this brings up three important issues:

  • How do we encourage more low-income students to participate in the IB?
  • How do we support them as they balance school, activites, family commitments, part-time jobs and the many other pressures they deal with on a daily basis in high school?
  • How do we assist them through the college selection and application process?

Quite a few of us in the IB world are hard at work on providing support to the amazing educators who work with low-income students day to day. My colleague Asheesh Mizra is the IB Program Manager for the Bridging the Equity Gap project. Thanks to a grant from the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, the IB has developed a Framework for Excellence and Equity (E2 Framework). To learn more about this initiative visit Asheesh’s blog.

Our own Rachelle Bernadel has been working with Asheesh and a team of educators, to provide workshops to the five high schools in the E2 pilot project.

The IB Americas College and University Relations Committee has been busy creating a series of workshops on college counseling for low-income IB students. Once their work is completed we will share these materials with all of you so you can customize them to meet your needs.

We are committed to helping colleges and universities connect with our highly qualified, underrepresented students. We would also like to work closely with our colleagues to continue supporting them once they arrive on campus. To this end, the IB University Relations team is expanding its circle beyond admissions and enrollment professionals to include academic advising, registrars and faculty.

At the beginning of this post I shared with you that attending the NACAC Conference inspires me to do the work I love. I would like to end with their Reach higher Challenge. I hope that you will take it on and help one more IB low-income student to achieve his or her dreams of attending university and succeeding in life. Together we can make a difference. As we say in Spanish, “Sí se puede!!!!”

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