Summer Search: A unique approach to college completion

For low-income, first-generation students to make it to and through college, we know many pieces must fall into place. Support during the application process, access to financial aid information, and on-campus support are all essential for a student’s success. But what if maximizing support for students in college meant instilling skills for success in high school?

Summer Search approaches college completion through this lens: With exposure to critical developmental opportunities that help build and strengthen socio-emotional factors essential for long-term success, students of all backgrounds can develop college-going mindsets to enter and graduate college and become successful leaders. However, in order to accomplish this goal, support must begin long before they reach a college campus.

Building skills for success: The model

Summer Search serves students in low-income communities who are at risk for falling through the cracks in education – they are students who demonstrate potential but are short on opportunity. With the belief that these students have what it takes to succeed, the organization starts working with them during their sophomore year of high school and continues to support them through college graduation.

Summer Search’s innovative model integrates a combination of services to provide maximum long-term support:

  • Year-round mentoring by professional staff
  • Two summer experiential learning opportunities
  • Start-to-finish college and financial aid counseling
  • A consistent network of support through high school and beyond

As part of their strategic plan, Summer Search launched a series of innovation pilots with the goal of learning how to scale their program model to reach and serve an increasing number of students, without increasing costs. They expect to take key learnings from each pilot and apply them to their model.

Summer Search’s long-view approach is helping students overcome the challenges they face, and is helping students across the nation build brighter futures for themselves and their families.

More than twenty-five years of impact

Headquartered in San Francisco, the organization also operates in Seattle, Oakland, Boston, Philadelphia and New York City.  With more than 25 years of experience, the model has demonstrated success in impacting student outcomes.

The results of a quasi-experimental study conducted in 2012 that measured the impact on students enrolled in the Seattle program are encouraging.  The study found that:

  • Seventy-one percent of Summer Search students enrolled in a post-secondary institution directly following high school, versus 42 percent of their academically comparable, low-income peers.
  • Eighty-nine percent of students who received services from Summer Search graduated college ready, compared to 71 percent of peers of the same socioeconomic status and academic standing.
  • Summer Search students had greater increases in enrollment in high school honors classes than their academically comparable, low-income peers.

In addition, in fiscal year 2015, 89 percent of graduating high school seniors matriculated to college, and 71 percent of Summer Search college students graduated with a bachelor’s degree within six years (exceeding the national rate of 32 percent for low-income, first-generation students).

Brighter futures

Leveling the playing field for low-income, first-generation students isn’t something that will happen overnight. However, there is great promise. Summer Search’s long-view approach is helping students overcome the challenges they face, and is helping students across the nation build brighter futures for themselves and their families. Together, we can ensure every determined student has the opportunity to realize their full potential.