Blog: The Educated Reporter

Success in College: Models that Improve the Odds

EWA’s 66th National Seminar was recently held at Stanford University, and we asked some of the education reporters attending to contribute blog posts from the sessions, including one examining President Obama’s universal preschool proposal.Today’s guest blogger is Nan Austin of the Sacramento BeeStream sessions from National Seminar in your browser, or subscribe via RSS or iTunes. For more on higher education affordability, access, and completion, visit EWA’s Story Starters online resource. 

High-income kids usually get a college degree. Low-income kids usually don’t.

The reasons are many, and the statistics are daunting, but two programs show promise on a small scale using intensive interventions to help low-income students succeed in college. One program focuses on mentoring, the other on academics.

First, the numbers: In 2009, about 82 percent of students from high-income households had a bachelor’s degree in hand by age 26, while only 8 percent of low-income students did. Since 1975, the college completion rate has more than doubled for high-income students, but the needle has barely budged for poor kids.

For most students, going to college starts with the dream, but then comes the reality: signing up for the right courses, taking the right tests, filling out the right papers, navigating the financial aid process. High schools that excel at helping teens through these processes carry a college-going mindset campuswide, Antonio said.

Once in college, it takes determination to stay there. About 45 percent of teens from low-income households leave high school academically unprepared for college, three times the rate of their high-income peers. That means those low-income students will have to start with remedial classes for which they won’t get credit. There is a major disconnect between K-12 districts and the college systems, Antonio said, “A crack kids are falling into.”

Nonprofit organizations Bright Prospect and SEO Scholars aim to help disadvantaged students beat the odds. Both programs use fundraising and grants to pay for their programs; students do not pay.

Tim Sandoval said the Bright Prospect program targets low-wealth schools and takes all comers, freshman through juniors. The cost is roughly $1,000 per student per year, serving 1,500 students this year. Their website cites a 91 percent college completion rate.

Bright Prospect matches high school students with mentors and a peer support group, sticking with participants “to and through” college. Camaraderie and a focus on developing coping skills and confidence mark this program.

While in college, students form a support network with others from similar programs, including SEO Scholars.

Jessica Cogan said the SEO Scholars program includes a rigorous application process, taking only 126 students from 800 applicants this year, at an annual cost of about $5,000 per student. Cogan said the program aims for kids in the middle, who typically do not qualify for high need or high achievement programs. She said of SEO’s students complete college within four years, 95 percent within six years.

For SEO Scholars, students from across New York City attend rigorous afterschool and full-day Saturday classes to get their math, reading and writing skills to college level. A mandatory five- week program in the summer includes enrichment, SAT prep and—the summer before senior year—an internship.

“We’re like the Marine Corps of programs,” Cogan said.