News: College Access & Success

How Partnership for the Future Uses Campus Visits, Coaches, and More To Help College Students Stay o

Friday, January 18, 2019  
Posted by: Bill DeBaun, Director of Data and Evaluation
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NCAN, with the support of the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, is supporting 12 members as they begin or expand postsecondary success services for students. Using results from the Benchmarking Project, NCAN identified programs providing success services that have achieved positive postsecondary outcomes for students. In this blog series, we will profile some of these programs and hear from them about their approach, their advice, and lessons other member programs can learn. Today, we profile Partnership for the FutureSee previous entries on The Scholarship Foundation of St. Louis and The Robert and Janice McNair Educational Foundation.

Alan Kirshner, CEO of Markel Corporation, started Partnership for the Future (PFF) in 1994. Kirshner wanted to fill the college and career preparation and "cultural capital" gap that he observed in area students and began approaching businesses to host high school students as interns. Although most businesses said no, 12 students and three businesses comprised the first PFF cohort in 1994.

Today the program serves an average of 200 students and 70 business partners each year. Its mission remains providing high-potential high school students from challenging circumstances in the metro Richmond area with the tools and experiences necessary to attain a college degree. Ultimately, Charleita Richardson, president and CEO, notes: PFF provides a holistic approach to life skills and education for students to convert their potential and prepare them for opportunities.

For nearly 25 years, PFF has offset the deficiencies that otherwise hold back exceptional students from attaining a college degree. They look at the big picture by nurturing students with new experiences, new relationships, and new educational opportunities that allow them to succeed. On average, 80 percent of the students complete the program, and, of those, 100 percent matriculate to a four-year college. Since the program’s inception, 83 percent of PFF students have graduated from college in four years or less, or they are persisting and expect to graduate within six years.

During the school year, PFF meets with students to monitor their grades, volunteer services, and other extracurricular activities that will position them for college. Students attend Cultural Capital Sessions three times during the school year to help fill in their experiential gaps. Students also participate in a paid three-year summer internship with local businesses or organizations and work onsite Monday through Thursday, spending each Friday at PFF developing additional skills.

In 2013, PFF launched an initiative to guide first-year college students (76 percent of whom are first-generation) through that crucial first year of college. To date, almost all the PFF freshman college students successfully persisted to their second year of study. In 2015, PFF added COACHES RVA, a pilot program to partner college sophomores with mentors from Leadership Metro Richmond. In fall 2017, PFF created a new strategic plan that effectively adds a workforce piece into its services, allowing the organization to support PFF college graduates’ success.

I reached out to Charleita Richardson to hear more about Partnership for the Future’s success programming. What follows below is a transcript of our interview, lightly edited for length and clarity. NCAN has previously profiled PFF’s college and career success work.

What are the services you provide to students already enrolled in postsecondary institutions (“success services”), and what are the logistics around providing them?

We currently provide:

  • One visit per school year to their campus (often in the first semester). This can create both a huge travel demand on your team and a cost issue with the organization. For schools where we are taking high school students for visits, we structure our visits with our students already enrolled there in order to save money and time.
  • Monthly webinar topics and/or emails. In order to execute this, a program needs some type of online recording tool/web presentation program like WebEx.
  • Assessment planning for students struggling in college. This may require another visit to their school to discuss available campus resources and to lay out the full work improvement plan.
  • Coaches. This mostly requires that we train the coaches, who are then scheduled for a meet-and-greet with their student. Coaches also plan subsequent events over students’ college breaks.

When did you decide to add success services, how did they develop, and when in your program's history did that occur?

Indirectly, we offered success services around 2010 (program year 17) when we started to hold our Different World college transition workshops. Success programming officially began as a discussion in 2013, after several funders continued to inquire about our students’ college graduation rates. By 2014, we unveiled the basics of the program and started working with our first group of college freshmen. By 2015, we added our partnership with Leadership Metro Richmond and expanded the services. In 2018, we grew even more to include focusing on the transition from college.

What are the challenges you experience (or experienced) in getting this work off the ground?

Our biggest hurdle was, and is, getting students to embrace the fact that we will stay connected to them while in college. Because we originally work with students from their 10th-grade year until high school graduation, that is all they view in terms of programming. Making sure that they fully understand and are open to our continued involvement once they reach the age of adulthood has been challenging and a difficult transition. As our messaging improves, the issue lessens.

Which aspects of what you do are replicated from other programs, and which aspects of what you do would be replicable for other programs? 

We replicated the concept of visiting students on their campus from other programs, but we were not aware of that at the time of creation. We strongly believe that having the coaches is something that programs should replicate because it opens up many networks for students who traditionally would not have them.

What are the key indicators you track for your success services? Which of NCAN’s Success Common Measures do you track? What are the challenges around tracking them?

  • Percent of students who enroll within six months of high school graduation
  • Student enrollment by institution type and status (full time vs. part time)
  • Average college GPA
  • Year to Year Persistence
  • % of students completing a degree within 150% of time
  • % of students awarded financial aid

The primary challenges are centered on the data that we must obtain from the student directly (i.e. college GPA). We have not moved toward FERPA releases for the college students, and that limits our ability to secure the information if the student does not provide it.

How do you balance the demand to provide more access support with the desire to provide more success support? How does that cause organizational shifts in, for example, securing funding, board commitment, and staff training?

We balance the demand by securing volunteers to assist. The coaches allow us to provide more success support without having to increase staff. From the access perspective, we also rely heavily on trained volunteers during a student’s 12th-grade year. By using this approach, we limit the increased need for funding. As we evolved the success program last year, we depended on the support of other nonprofit partners and various businesses to offer guidance to our students on desired topics.

How do you cooperate with colleges in supporting students?

Unfortunately, this is an area where we are still developing the answer. For our partner schools where we have strong relationships, we serve as a resource when they believe the student is facing adaptation challenges. Upon receiving those notifications, we reach out to the student to determine the root cause of the issue and try to find ways to resolve the problem. 

How do you provide services to students who attend schools far away from your program’s location? What advice do you have for other programs in serving their own students at a distance?

Distance is not a factor for us because our success program is designed for staff to visit the student and funding has been secured for this option. In addition, we encourage staff to utilize technology like FaceTime, Skype, etc. for additional conversations. We would encourage programs to just be open to the method of communication that the student prefers. It will help you to better solicit their buy-in.


Thank you to Charleita for her time and responses and to Partnership for the Future for their NCAN membership. We will return soon with additional profiles of programs succeeding with college success.

(Photo by Muhammad Rizwan on Unsplash)