What students may need to hear most: You can do this

More than half of D.C. students who graduated from high school in 2008 did not earn a bachelor's degree within six years, reports a 2015 estimate from the Office of the State Superintendent of Education.

But for the past two decades, D.C. College Access Program (DC-CAP) has worked to close that gap by supporting the city's high school students through their college journey, reports Mandy McLaren for the Washington Post.

The nonprofit pairs first-year students with an advisor who supplements the work of a high school counselor by shepherding students through the college application process, reports McLaren.

Once students begin college, a retention advisor tracks their progress for up to five years. Students who have a higher risk of dropping out are given extra support, writes McLaren.

Advisors guide students through the financial aid process and encourage them to apply to schools with affordable tuition. Sometimes advisors will advocate on behalf of students by negotiating financial solutions with the college itself.

For first-generation student Binta Nbenga, the support network helped her land an acceptance to North Carolina A&T University. Although her mother, Mamy Ceesay, had trouble understanding the many application forms, she credits the advisors for helping "fill in that gap."

How to help first-generation students navigate the "hidden curriculum"

According to David Kirp, low-income, minority, and first-generation students are the most likely to doubt their place in college. That lack of confidence can become self-fulling and lead to students dropping out. However, research shows that with some encouragement, students can become more confident in their abilities, leading to better outcomes.

Since the nonprofit's founding in 1999, D.C. has doubled the number of college bound high school graduates, says Argelia Rodriguez, president of DC-CAP.

Although high school graduation rate is on the rise, the city's next challenge is preparing students to succeed in college level math and science courses. Last fall, the nonprofit launched an after-school program to help students improve STEM skills, reports McLaren.

Donnisha Barnes, a D.C. high school graduate, struggled with self-doubt throughout her undergraduate career at Clark Atlanta University. Now a DC-CAP retention advisor with a master's degree, she offers her own journey as proof to struggling students that "you can do this and you do measure up" (McLaren, Washington Post, 8/21).

What success means to your students, in their own words

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