The national network of KIPP charter schools last spring announced plans to more than double the number of its low-income students who graduate from college, by partnering with colleges and universities that encourage KIPP students to apply and support those who enroll.

Officials are set to announce Wednesday that the University of Pennsylvania will become the KIPP Foundation's 10th higher-education partner and its first Ivy League school.

"I have followed and admired KIPP's work from its beginning in 1994," Penn president Amy Gutmann said in an e-mail interview. "It aligns perfectly with my commitment to increase access to higher education at Penn and nationally.

"As we looked at Penn's strategy to increase access and diversity, a relationship that started somewhat informally evolved into a formal partnership, which we're so pleased to make official this week."

The students will have to meet Penn's rigorous admission requirements. But beginning with the 2013-14 academic year, the university projects it could admit as many as 12 to 15 graduates of KIPP's network of 109 charter schools. Students also will have work-study jobs tutoring younger students at KIPP's four charters in the city.

And, because Penn already pledges to meet the full financial need of all qualified undergrads, the partnership could open new opportunities for KIPP alumni who are admitted. For undergraduates who live on campus, the cost of attending Penn will be just shy of $60,000 in the fall.

"We are incredibly excited about this," said Marc Mannella, CEO of KIPP Philadelphia.

"The bottom line for us is that hopefully it will lead to more KIPP students' applying and matriculating at Penn, as well as the ability to give work-study opportunities," he said.

Mannella, who oversees charter schools in North and West Philadelphia that enroll 930 students, said some Penn students already have work-study jobs with KIPP but the partnership will increase the number.

By signing a partnership agreement, Penn is joining a higher-education group that includes Franklin and Marshall in Lancaster; Davidson in North Carolina; Tulane in Louisiana; and Morehouse in Georgia.

Wednesday's announcement marks an especially sweet milestone for Mike Feinberg, a 1991 Penn grad who co-founded the nonprofit Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP).

"There is no way Penn was not going to be one of our first 10 partners," Feinberg said in a recent interview.

A board member of the KIPP Foundation that supports the charter network and superintendent of KIPP Houston, Feinberg said the partnership with Penn was an affirmation of KIPP schools' college-prep emphasis and successful academic record.

The KIPP model includes more instructional time than traditional public schools and many other charters. In Philadelphia, KIPP students are in school from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays.

They attend programs every other Saturday and have three weeks of instruction in the summer. The schools also seek to balance rigorous college-prep lessons with extracurricular activities, experiential field lessons, and character development.

After new students have been selected through a lottery, they, their parents, and their principals and teachers sign a pledge called "Commitment to Excellence" and promise to do whatever is necessary to help the student learn.

Eighty-eight percent of the Philadelphia students who were among the first students who entered KIPP as fifth graders in 2003 have completed high school; 65 percent are in college.

Although some critics have charged that KIPP charters have a high rate of student turnover, KIPP Philadelphia reports that 88 percent of its students return each year.

Since Feinberg and David Levin, both Teach for America alums, founded KIPP in Houston nearly 20 years ago to put low-income middle schoolers on a trajectory toward college, the program has spread to 20 states and Washington, D.C. The KIPP network, which now includes elementary and high schools, enrolls 33,000 students. More than 85 percent are from low-income families. For Philadelphia the number is 84 percent.

While census records show that only 8 percent of low-income Americans have earned four-year degrees by their mid-20s, KIPP reported last spring that 33 percent of its students who had completed eighth grade at KIPP schools had four-year degrees 10 years later. This spring it improved to 36 percent.

That rate may be more than four times better than the national average, but Feinberg said it's not good enough. KIPP's goal is for 75 percent of its grads to earn four-year degrees.

Apart from opening a KIPP university, Feinberg said that forming partnerships with like-minded colleges and universities was the best bet for ensuring that KIPP meets its objective.

"We had no choice," Feinberg said. "We were on the hook for making some big and bold promises to the children who come to KIPP. . . . We promise not only to prepare them to get to college but to get them through college."

He said the KIPP Foundation, based in San Francisco, hopes to forge partnerships with dozens of colleges and universities across the country.

Franklin and Marshall, which joined in 2011, hosted a three-week, college-immersion program for 23 KIPP high school students in July.

Cass Cliatt, vice president of communications at F&M, said eight KIPP grads will be among the 600-member Class of 2016 who arrive in August.

KIPP officials said it's helpful to have a cadre of KIPP grads on campus to support each other. A few KIPP alumni already attend F&M and Penn.

"Now that we've formalized the relationship, we expect to expand more staff time and energy to ensure that we help students meet the challenges they face when they come to Penn," Gutmann said.

KIPP's expectation that its students will go to college is a constant. College is discussed when school representatives visit new students in their homes before the school year starts. Inside KIPP schools, pennants from teachers' alma maters hang outside classrooms.

And even kindergartners are identified as members of a class, based on the year they will enter college.

Through the partnership and Penn's work-study students, KIPP youngsters in Philadelphia also will have chances to meet and forge ties with Penn students who were "Kippsters" once themselves.

Feinberg said it's a continuation of KIPP's philosophy that older KIPP students have a responsibility to help younger students.

"That is part of the agreement," Feinberg said. "We're always talking about climbing the mountain. We ask that when they get to the top they enjoy the view and reach back to help others climb."

KIPP Partners

Colleges and universities that have signed partnership agreements with KIPP:

Colby College (Waterville, Maine)

Davidson College (Davidson, N.C.)

University of Houston

Franklin and Marshall College (Lancaster)

San Jose State University (San Jose, Calif.)

Mercy College (Dobbs Ferry, N.Y.)

Tulane University (New Orleans)

Morehouse College (Atlanta)

Spelman College (Atlanta)

University of Pennsylvania

EndText

Contact staff writer Martha Woodall at 215-854-2789 or at martha.woodall@phillynews.com.