Today, at NYC’s Jazz at Lincoln Center, students from 11 NYC Title 1 high schools will be celebrated for their successful participation in Harvard Professor Elisa New’s college course Poetry in America: The City from Whitman to Hip Hop.  

As part of a national initiative with the National Education Equity Lab, Common App, and Poetry in America, over 100 talented NYC high school students from Title 1 high schools, had the opportunity to take an online Harvard humanities course in their high school classrooms. Students who successfully passed the course received, at no cost to them, four Harvard Extension School college credits.  

It’s all part of a national pilot to help propel talented, high striving 11th and 12th graders in historically underserved communities to college and beyond — by offering the opportunity for college to be more accessible and affordable.  

A Successful Pilot 

The pilot launched this fall in 11 cities across the country including Flint and Pontiac, Michigan, Baton Rouge, Lafitte, Lafayette and Opelousas, Louisiana, Los Angeles, San Diego, Meriden, Connecticut, New York City and a school in Gallup, New Mexico serving students from a nearby Navajo reservation. 

Nearly 350 high school students took the online Harvard Extension School college course, Poetry in America: The City from Whitman to Hip Hop in their classrooms with a classroom co-teacher who led discussions and helped students stay on track. Through the National Education Equity Lab’s partnership with Common App, students were also offered a college mentor with Strive for College. Through Reach Higher, a college access initiative housed at Common App that was started by former First Lady Michelle Obama during her time in the White House, students received messages about college and financial aid.

A detailed report will be released this spring.  The preliminary findings indicate: the College-in-High School course had a high retention rate, most students who completed the course passed and received college credits, nearly all students indicated they would recommend this course to a friend, all participating school districts indicated they are interested in future course offerings, and students reported the course helped them understand the effort required to succeed in college, improve their writing skills, and learn the importance of asking for and getting help. In addition, all students had the opportunity to be matched with a college mentor to navigate the college and financial aid process, and heard messages from Michelle Obama and others about college worthiness and FAFSA.   

One pilot student from Gallup, New Mexico said, 

“I learned how to push myself, and work and think, in ways I never had to before...and I learned that I can do college-level work. Teachers had told me that, but now I see it and believe it and want more. In that way, this class probably changed my life.”  

One of the teachers from Flint, Michigan said, 

I'm not exaggerating when I say that this has been one of the best experiences of my teaching career, and I've been teaching for twenty-three years. I drove home in tears (happy tears) more than once because I was so proud of what my students had accomplished and so inspired by how well things had gone that day in our class.” 

“Game-Changing,” Says Former U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan 

Former U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, a National Education Equity Lab advisory board member, and current Managing Partner at Emerson Collective, said:

“Democratizing access to higher education in our nation has never been more critical. Harvard’s leadership in offering a college credit-bearing course to talented students in Title 1 high school classrooms is game-changing.”

Jenny Rickard Trailblazer Awardee for Her Equity-Focused Achievements in the College Admissions Process

Common App President and CEO, Jenny Rickard is the first recipient of the National Education Equity Lab Trailblazer Award for her powerful equity-driven accomplishments for all students during her tenure at Common App.  “Trailblazer is an understatement in describing Jenny Rickard,” said Leslie Cornfeld, CEO of the National Education Equity Lab. “She has powerfully led the charge in promoting access, equity and integrity in the college admission process

“I’m truly honored to be recognized with the Trailblazer award from the National Education Equity Lab,” said Jenny Rickard, President and CEO of Common App, a non-profit membership organization committed to access, equity and integrity in the college admission process. “Through our work, we’re focused on helping all students and particularly those underrepresented in higher education to overcome the systemic and logistical barriers preventing them from achieving their dreams. We are very proud to collaborate with the National Education Equity Lab on their pilot program and congratulate the talented students and teachers on their tremendous success this year."

Harvard Professor Elisa News Says “One of Most Inspiring Teaching Experiences”

Harvard Professor Elisa New, Powell M. Cabot Professor of American Literature, Poetry in America Founder and Director, said:

“This was one of the most inspiring teaching experiences of my career. To see high school students from the South Bronx to Flint, Michigan to LA embrace the rigors of a college-level course on poetry was eye-opening and motivating. I'm convinced that institutions of higher learning, like Harvard, can make a real impact in advancing social mobility across the U.S. by providing students like those who succeeded in the pilot the chance to show what they can do.”

National Education Equity Lab founder and CEO, Leslie Cornfeld approached Harvard leadership and Professor New in 2019 about launching a national pilot targeting high striving students in underserved high schools – with Professor New’s popular online Poetry in America course, offered by Harvard Extension School for credit.  

“We know that ‘talent is evenly distributed, opportunity is not’ as many have expressed,” said Cornfeld. “The preliminary pilot findings demonstrate proof of concept for what talented, high striving students in every zip code can accomplish when given the opportunity to excel.”

Ann Tisch To Give Honorary Keynote at Jazz at Lincoln Center - Celebrating NYC Pilot Students, Teachers and Families 

Wynton Marsalis will open the event with a congratulations to NYC’s pilot students.

Ann Tisch, Founder, and President of the Young Women’s Leadership Network and CollegeBound Initiative will give the honorary keynote remarks.  Students from The Young Women’s Leadership School of the Bronx and The Young Women’s Leadership School of Queens participated in the national pilot. “Ann is a force of nature; her network of schools is a model for all who want to propel student success in college and beyond,” said Leslie Cornfeld.  

Donald “Field” Brown, Rhodes Scholar and one of the star Harvard Teaching Fellows from the pilot, will moderate a panel of New York City teachers and students on the power of college readiness and college access.  

Vice President of Education at United Way of New York City, Marielys Divanne, will close the event by recognizing the 11 participating NYC schools and the 180 participating NYC students.

Multiple Opportunities for Scale on the Horizon 

The model has caught the attention of many because it not only provides top credit-bearing online courses in classrooms, at no cost to students, but it is scalable and cost-efficient. 

Next Steps

Phase two of the pilot will continue with two courses at Arizona State University (ASU), named by USNews as “the number one university for innovation in the country”, this spring. In partnership with the National Education Equity Lab, ASU will offer the Poetry in America course and a STEM course, ASU’s Introduction to Engineering. The same model will be duplicated:  students will take an online college credit-bearing course, and upon successful completion will earn college credits, at no cost to them. Through Common App and Reach Higher, all students will, again, have an opportunity to be matched with college mentors and receive messages about navigating the college and financial aid process. 

In the spring, The National Education Equity Lab will announce additional colleges and universities for the 2020-21 school year.