The Road to College Graduation Part 2 – The IMPACT Program

In 2001, we graduated our first class of seniors and immediately began learning that success in college looks very different from success in high school.  While many of our alumni flourished in college, others encountered obstacles they weren’t ready for or didn’t expect and so stumbled.  With over 90% of our students being first-generation college-goers, it was quickly apparent that college acceptance was far from college completion and we needed to adapt and expand our programming if our students were going to have a real chance in college.

A few years ago, I first heard the “airport analogy” used to describe the college matriculation and transition process and think it is extremely appropriate, particularly for first-generation college-bound students.  Imagine stepping foot in an airport for the first time for your first flight at age 18, by yourself, and trying to negotiate all the steps necessary to make your flight.  Where do you go first?  What do you do with your bags?  What are you allowed to take on the plane?  Which line do you get in?  By the time you figure all this out, you’ve probably missed your flight, spent $50 for bags that are on the plane without you, and had to throw out your water bottle and half your toiletries.  This is, on a smaller scale, what the first weeks of college are like for many first-generation college students. 

The IMPACT Program is one of our major efforts towards alleviating the college culture shock our students often experience.

Through this program, we have made formal partnerships with over 25 colleges and universities since 2006, including Vanderbilt University, BoIMPACT cohort dinner at Vanderbiltston University, Davidson College, Bucknell Univ ersity, Grinnell College, Washington & Jefferson College, and many others.  Here is what the partnering colleges and universities agree to:

  • Give special consideration to qualified YES Prep students in the admissions process to allow a small cohort of 3-5 students to matriculate together each year
  • Meet 100% of the demonstrated financial need for all students in the program
  • Provide extra on-campus supports for the IMPACT
    Recent IMPACT cohort dinner at Vanderbilt


On the YES Prep side, we do the following:

  • Prepare our students academically from 6-12 so that they’re ready for the rigor of college coursework
  • Identify qualified students during their junior year in high school to make them aware of the IMPACT program and support them in identifying the best school for them and in fulfilling the admission requirements to get there
  • Instill students with the confidence to advocate for themselves and ask for help when they need it
  • Visit each IMPACT school every year to check in with students and university staff to ensure support is in place and that the students know how to access it
  • Designate an IMPACT ambassador on each college campus to help transition incoming YES Prep students to the school

Why would a college or university want to be an IMPACT school?  We’ve found that many colleges and universities share in our mission to increase the number of college graduates from disadvantaged communities.  And while we’re all working relentlessly to figure out how best to do it, it’s much easier to work in a partnership than on our own.  The schools we partner with also appreciate that we’re a proven model.  They have come to trust that our students will be well prepared academically for college and so are excited about having more YES students and helping to set them up for success.  Aside from meeting the full-demonstrated financial need of selected students, there is no additional cost to our partner colleges and universities.  All of their investment goes directly into their incoming students in the form of tuition assistance and other direct support versus into our program.

Through this program, we have had over 150 students become IMPACT scholars and roughly 90% of them are currently attending or have graduated from their original IMPACT school.  Those are strong results that we’re excited to build on.  Looking to the future, our goal is to grow the program to roughly 40 partner institutions by 2015-2016.  At this time, more than 200 YES Prep seniors will be participating in the IMPACT Program each year and that number will only continue to increase as YES Prep grows in and outside of Houston, so the addition of new partners will be crucial.

We’ve found that much of our students’ success in college comes down to open communication and relationships.  If you go to the airport for the first time, better to do it with a few friends you can relate to.   And better yet, have someone from the airport meet with you beforehand, greet you when you arrive, pay for your bags, and then walk with you through security.  If you can minimize all the complications that come with airports and travel, you’ll be better able to focus on the real task, flight.

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