The District is testing a new mentoring program at three universities in an attempt to keep the large numbers of D.C. high school graduates who drop out of college from calling it quits.

Through the College Retention Initiative, the city's Office of the State Superintendent of Education is paying 15 juniors at Delaware State University, Morgan State University and North Carolina A&T State University $1,000 per semester to have weekly and monthly check-ins with 83 freshmen who graduated from public high schools in D.C.

The three universities are not random choices: They're schools well-attended by students who receive financial aid through the DC Tuition Assistance Grant Program, but have high dropout rates. North Carolina A&T is the school second-most-attended by aid recipients, but only 48 percent graduate. At Morgan State, No. 13 among aid recipients, only 18 percent graduate.

Of the 20 universities most attended by aid recipients, 13 had a graduation rate under 50 percent.

"You have to think about basic stuff: Maybe a student goes away to school and someone at home is sick so they come home for two weeks and they don't know how to go back," said Emily Durso, OSSE's assistant superintendent for postsecondary and career education.

The mentors are D.C. graduates and aid recipients who have grade-point averages above 3.0 and who provided references to get the paying jobs. The program costs $75,000, with about half of the funding going to the Posse Foundation, a New York program that trained the mentors and is providing support throughout the year, said Brandon Frazier, a spokesman for OSSE.

If feedback is good, OSSE plans to expand the program to 10 schools next year. But in the meantime, schools officials are trying to attack the problem in high school, as well. Durso said D.C. graduates are dropping out of school because they're not making informed choices about where to go to college. Take the three universities targeted this year, for example: "They pick it for familiarity -- they're minority schools that a lot of D.C. residents over the years have gone to, maybe someone in your family has gone to, or a guidance counselor," Durso said. "But they're not necessarily the best place for the student."

Schools officials have been focusing efforts on training for guidance counselors and recommending schools with higher graduation rates, such as Trinity Washington University, at 71 percent, Durso said.