Ensuring Persistence: Church Farm School's Alumni Success Program

Over the last century, the United States has been steadily seeing an increase in the number of college graduates. In 1910, only 3% of adults over 25 years of age had a college degree. Today, according to the Education Data Initiative, 39% of adults over 18 have earned a bachelor’s degree or higher. 

Even with greater accessibility -- federal and state financial aid and scholarship opportunities have helped make a college education a possibility for many — there is a national problem of persisting to graduation, or completing the requirements to earn a bachelor’s degree. Recent statistics show that male students are more likely to drop out of school with a 59% completion rate (within 6 years), as opposed to female students with a 65% completion rate. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, from 2010-2016, the 6-year graduation rate for first-time, full-time Black undergraduate students was 40%.

A National Dilemma

Persistence to graduation is an issue that has resurfaced in the national spotlight after the COVID-19 pandemic; an analysis from the National Student Clearinghouse found that total male enrollment decreased 8.9 percent from spring 2020 to spring 2021.

As Inside Higher Ed reports, “The dramatic declines in male enrollments raise worrisome questions about the long-term trajectories for men in education, the workforce and society. A growing number are not only disappearing from higher education but also leaving the workplace. For those who are working, not having a college degree still equates to earning less, on average, and being at higher risk for unemployment than college-educated peers. The trend of male student disengagement is particularly worrying because of its potential to reverse hard-earned progress toward boosting college completion rates among Black and Latinx learners, now the fastest-growing segment of the college-age population but who enroll in colleges and complete their degrees at lower rates.”

Ideally, a Church Farm School graduate will finish college in four years. Even though CFS students are high-achieving young men with exemplary grades and involvement around its Exton, Pennsylvania, campus, we recognize that the transition to (and through) college does not always come easily.

In an effort to offset the national trend, Church Farm School started its Alumni Success Program as a way to stay connected with alumni in college and ensure their persistence within six years. To date, CFS alumni persistence is around 85%, more than double the national average for male students of color.

Read more about how Church Farm School uniquely prepares students for college and careers by downloading the CFS parent guide.

Establishing a Solid Foundation

An all-boys boarding school experience gives young men the opportunity to grow and to challenge themselves academically, socially, and athletically. A CFS education is about so much more than just rigorous college preparatory academics — it’s also about mastering self-discipline, time management, and establishing confidence in a student’s capabilities to live and learn independently away from home. 

Church Farm School starts working with students during their freshman year to help ensure they are more than ready for the college selection and application process. Students follow a college planning timeline with carefully curated goals for each year of high school, such as beginning to research scholarship opportunities as early as sophomore year and working on a draft of their personal statement for college application essays as early as junior year. 

A Strong Support System  

The goal of Church Farm School is to see its graduates go on to college and earn their bachelor’s degree in four years. Considering national statistics and that many Church Farm students are the first in their family to go to college, the CFS Alumni Success Program was launched in 2016 with seed funding from the Oprah Winfrey Charitable Foundation, the Hamilton Family Foundation, the Church of the Redeemer, and the Charter Foundation as a way to engage and support recent graduates, ensuring their persistence to graduation.

The Alumni Success Program has a staff of two, along with a number of faculty and staff volunteers. The team maintains connections with 200 graduates quarterly, and provides support, mentorship and guidance to help keep them on track, including:

  • Assisting with college course selection 
  • Advising regarding the management of student-professor relationships
  • Helping students create schedules that support their study needs 
  • Lending a listening ear when they’re homesick
  • Sending care packages during exam season 

Church Farm’s Alumni Success Program is getting results -- college persistence and graduation rates have steadily increased at Church Farm School.  For the class of 2016, 83% of Church Farm graduates are either still in college or have graduated. The graduating classes of 2017-2019 range from 87%-93%. The class of 2020 data shows 87% of CFS graduates are still persisting at college.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the classes of 2020 and 2021 have had to adjust to non-traditional college life. Church Farm’s Director of College Guidance and head of the Alumni Success Program, Tiffany Scott, shares the different experiences for recent graduates —  some decided to enroll at community colleges for a year, some deferred enrollment to stay home and take care of family obligations, some were on campus but learning remotely, some were learning remotely at home, and some were taking a hybrid mixture of in-person and remote learning. Despite these various scenarios, she says the Alumni Success Program team has been staying in touch to ensure spirits remain high and alumni remain connected with each other and with Church Farm School.

Ukashah Shabazz, Church Farm School class of 2015 and now a staff member at the school who works with Tiffany on the ASP, says, “As someone who benefited from the connections I retained to Church Farm School through the Alumni Success Program, I’m so happy to be paying it forward as a member of the ASP team, helping guide my younger Griffin brothers through the college process. It’s truly rewarding, and I can tell it’s impactful to our alumni.”   

Ready to see Church Farm’s supportive environment in action? 
The Church Farm School is an independent boarding and day school for boys in grades 9-12 located in Exton, PA. Founded in 1918 to provide an excellent education to young men from limited means, Church Farm School now serves boys from a range of socio-economic circumstances who are seeking an extraordinary educational opportunity. The school offers a challenging college preparatory curriculum and an exceptional level of personal attention, with class sizes averaging between just 7 and 12 students.