Alexis Yeager (COL ’22) first heard about Georgetown in ninth grade. That was the year she joined the Institute for College Preparation, a program that helps low-income Washington, D.C. students navigate college applications within Georgetown’s Center for Multicultural Equity and Access.
Without the ICP, Yeager is unsure if she would have enrolled in college. Like many other low-income students in the District, Yeager was filled with doubt about how her socio-economic status would translate in the eyes of college admission officers.
“I joined the program when I was in ninth grade,” Yeager said. “Before that, I wasn’t even thinking about college. I wanted to go to college but I was not sure if it was feasible given my situation at home. ”
Yeager’s brother went to H.D. Woodson High School, which primarily serves students in Ward 7, an area in Southeast D.C. with historically low-income neighborhoods.
Yeager herself attended School Without Walls in Foggy Bottom. A public magnet school, Walls offers special instruction and programs unavailable elsewhere, designed to attract a more diverse student body from across its school district.
But even with this resource at her disposal, Georgetown was not on Yeager’s radar.
“I don’t know if Georgetown really reached out to people in my high school,” Yeager said.
Georgetown takes pride in its D.C. location, citing its position in the “nation’s capital” as an asset for prospective students on its admission website. Yet of the 169 D.C. residents who applied to Georgetown’s class of 2022, 22 enrolled this fall. D.C. residents represent just over one percent of the 1622-person freshman class. Talented students who grew up in the District comprise a small component of Georgetown’s community due to accessibility obstacles for students from poorer wards.
Programs like the ICP seek to mitigate these barriers to applying by making higher education institutions like Georgetown more accessible to students living in the local community.
Pipeline to Access
Georgetown’s outreach to the D.C. community aims to empower students, primarily from Wards 7 and 8, to see the benefits of a post-secondary education. ICP constitutes one of several Georgetown initiatives which aim to improve its recruitment efforts in the District.
The ICP works with a cohort of around 35 students from middle schools in Ward 7. Starting in seventh grade, these “pre-college scholars” come to Georgetown’s campus every Saturday to attend classes so they are prepared for college by the time they graduate high school.
In addition to this “Saturday Academy,” CMEA takes ICP participants on college tours. The creation of the D.C. Tuition Assistance Grant allows D.C. residents to attend any public college or university for the cost of in-state tuition. This District-sponsored initiative has expanded CMEA tours to include not only nearby schools on the East Coast but also state schools in the Midwest.
The ICP aims to get middle and high school students, who attend targeted D.C. public schools, interested in all post-secondary educational opportunities, not just Georgetown, according to Executive Director Charlene Brown-McKenzie.
“The goal is to inspire interest and hope in higher education,” Brown-McKenzie, who also serves as CMEA director, said. “That’s the ICP piece. It is about inspiring the possibilities of college access broadly. It is not a pipeline feeder to Georgetown.”
In addition to the ICP, the CMEA runs two other outreach programs in the D.C. community to engage with low-income students and prepare them for the possibility of attending college.
Each spring, student volunteers from Georgetown University teach a curriculum focusing on college and career preparation to sixth graders for six to eight weeks, with a campus visit at the end of the program.
Georgetown continues to run Kids2College, a program aimed to make students aware of the viable option of attending college immediately after high school, Brown-McKenzie said.
“We are probably the only institution in the D.C. area that continues doing the Kids2College program,” Brown-McKenzie said. “Why? Because of the best-practice literature. The literature says you start early. You start early and you start often.”
Georgetown also participates in the College Exposure-Dual Enrollment Program, which allows high school seniors from local public schools to enroll in courses at their local university — in this case, Georgetown — for free.
Georgetown is committed to spreading awareness of college opportunities to the local community that may not otherwise engage with the university, according to Brown-McKenzie.
“It is our hope that we will continue to have the institutional support to really allow this to be a true gateway to post-secondary education for communities that would not normally have this opportunity,” Brown-McKenzie said. “We are just one part of the education sector.”
Programs at the Center for Social Justice — including its academic tutoring and English mentorship programs like After School Kids and D.C. Schools Project — reinforce CMEA’s goals.
“I think with the work that especially the ASK program, the D.C. Schools Project is doing in our immigrant communities, they are seeing more and more messaging around Georgetown in the community,” Brown-McKenzie said.
For Talhia Tuck, Georgetown’s associate director of admissions, reaching out to D.C. schools is a personal priority. Raised in the District, Tuck said her passion to provide greater access for local public school students stems from her grandmother, who taught in D.C. public schools.
The decision for D.C. residents to apply to local colleges requires a tailored recruiting approach from admissions, according to Tuck.
“Having grown up in D.C., I’m aware of the fact that they might have a different perspective because they are right here in the same place that Georgetown is. So I do think that students who are local might look at the decision to stay or leave in a different way,” Tuck said. “I try to start by talking about what I loved about D.C. and how being a student in D.C. in college is going to be different than their experience in high school.”
Georgetown recognizes the importance of involving District-based families to ensure its students success. As a result, Brown-McKenzie said the university makes sure its pre-college programs reach the wider support network of these low-income students. For families, the ICP offers a series of parent engagement workshops.
Similarly, anyone who participates in Kids2College, a program for sixth graders, is automatically invited — funding permitted — to join the ICP, a program for seventh graders and above.
“It’s not just a one time, one shot deal,” Brown-Mckenzie said.
The institute has seen immense success, according to Brown-McKenzie. One hundred percent of students from the class of 2014 went on to post-secondary education, including two-year and four-year institutions.
“We have historically achieved extraordinarily high graduation rates that far exceed that of the local schools and we continue to do so,” Brown-McKenzie said.
In fall 2015, the ICP welcomed its new cohort of students from partner middle schools in Ward 7, including Parkside Middle School, John Philip Sousa Middle School and Kelly Miller Middle School. ICP adopts a new cohort of approximately 35 low-income students every five or six years, once their previous class has graduated. The most recent cohort of students is on track to graduate high school in 2020 and college in 2024.
Brown-McKenzie is optimistic about the future of the program as it continues to evolve and expand, such as through study abroad opportunities for ICP participants.
“The District is becoming so much more global, and poor folks across the river aren’t able to access what that means,” Brown-McKenzie said. “So we build in a study abroad component at no cost to the student. Again, not perfect, but for me, it’s one of the options that allows Georgetown to really be a special place. Can we do more? Of course.”
For Yeager, no background or income status should prevent local students seeking out university opportunities. She encouraged D.C. high school students to apply, despite concerns they might have.
“If you’re thinking about Georgetown, don’t be afraid to apply,” Yeager said. “Don’t get caught up in the preconceived notions you might have about a [predominantly white institution] or identity because on Georgetown’s campus, there’s definitely a community for everybody.”