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RACINE — In the summer after graduation, Racine Unified School District alumni will get help in making it to college, in the form of text messages from counselors.

Unified is one of 15 Wisconsin districts awarded grants to help recent graduates, who have been accepted at colleges or universities, actually make it to classes in the fall.

According to Great Lakes Higher Education Corporation & Affiliates, which recently awarded the districts $630,000 in Text Steps grants, as many as 40 percent of high school graduates from underserved communities who have been accepted to college never start classes in the fall.

Some of the tasks standing in the way of these students are finalizing financial aid, registering for orientation and confirming campus housing, just to name a few. Completing the list can be challenging for any student, but may be especially challenging for those who are the first in their families to attend college.

Unified’s $47,100 grant, to be used over two years, will help it launch a summer texting program designed to help students complete final steps on the path to college. Through the texting program, Unified counselors will send texts over the summer to students reminding them to take immediate action on certain important tasks and inviting them to text back for more help.

“We are so pleased to receive this grant,” said Unified Student Services Director Andrea Rittgers. “Our staff provides students excellent support during the four years of high school to help them with the process of applying for getting accepted into college. This grant will allow us to continue that support into the summer months to ensure our students take the final steps necessary to become college students.”

Research

Sending reminder texts to students who relied on support from counselors to apply to colleges and seek financial aid while still in high school substantially increases the share who successfully enroll come fall, according to studies by Dr. Ben Castleman at the University of Virginia and Dr. Lindsay Page at the University of Pittsburgh.

Text Steps builds on knowledge gained through a 2015 grant, through which Great Lakes commissioned Castleman to study what it took for the Janesville, Madison and Stevens Point Area districts to design, launch and administer summer texting programs.

The numbers

According to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, 48 percent of Racine Unified students who graduated sometime in the 2016-2017 school year enrolled in post-secondary education in fall 2017.

Great Lakes awarded the grants to public school districts with large populations of low-income students, to ensure the programs serve students who have the most to gain from additional counselor support.

In the 2017-18 school year, according to DPI, 52.2 percent of Racine Unified high school students were economically disadvantaged, compared to 38 percent of high school students statewide.

The goals of the Text Steps program are to guide school districts through the program implementation, to help them measure and share the program’s impact and to encourage them to find and allocate resources to keep the program going after the grant period ends.

“Our grantmaking is all about building opportunity,” Richard D. George, president and chief executive officer of Great Lakes, said in a news release. “We look forward to supporting our Text Steps partners as they help their students advance toward their postsecondary goals.”

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Reporter

Caitlin Sievers covers cops, crime and the west-end communities. She's a lover of cats, dance and Harry Potter. Before moving to the Racine area she worked at small papers in Indiana, Illinois and Nebraska.

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