Archive for April, 2013

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Helping Our Poor Youth Change the Face of the World

April 25, 2013

Without Pace University’s Upward Bound Program, I wouldn’t be here. The program literally saved my life. Before I joined the program in the summer between the ninth and tenth grade, I didn’t know college existed. I thought high school was the end of it all. My parents never finished high school. I didn’t know anyone who went to college. No one spoke to me about it. Upward Bound helped me strengthen my academics in high school and exposed me to schools like Skidmore College, which I ended up graduating from.

Unfortunately, every poor child can’t be in an Upward Bound Program or some kind of college prep program. Every year, these programs lose funding or get cut completely. Even without the cuts, every student can’t be reached. Most high school students, especially in New York City, only have access to one college advisor. One person can’t give one on one attention to the hundreds of seniors and juniors. One person can’t expose that many students to schools like Skidmore.

David Leonhardt’s New York Times article called “Better Colleges Failing to Lure Talented Poor” cites a study conducted by a Harvard professor and a Stanford professor: “Only 34 percent of high-achieving high school seniors in the bottom fourth of income distribution attended any one of the country’s 238 most selective colleges.” To make matters even worst, Third Way cited a survey called National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, 1979 and 1997 stating that of the poor born between 1979 and 1982, 29% got into college and 9% graduated (Page 41).

But there is hope! A study done by the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities states that first generation students, who are usually poor, are more likely to graduate from private institutions than public ones. To expand on that more, the U.S. Department of Education cites that students in general are more likely to graduate from private nonprofits than other schools (Figure 45-2). This is because these schools have the resources to help students succeed.

Despite these positive numbers, families still think schools like Skidmore cost too much. My family was one of them. But this simply isn’t true. David Leonhardt published another article in the New York Times called “A Simple Way to Send Poor Kids to Top Colleges” citing a study on exposing poor students to schools like Skidmore. In it, Leonhardt states that “Selective colleges frequently cost less for low-income students than local colleges, because the selective ones have the resources to offer bigger scholarships.”

This is true for where I went. I was admitted Early Decision to Skidmore’s Higher Education Opportunity Program (HEOP). I was offered a package from Skidmore/HEOP that would have left me with only $8,000 in loans. Since I had outside scholarships totaling about $6,000 and became a Resident Assistant (RA) in my senior year, I graduated from Skidmore with no loans.

New York State’s HEOP is a program many poor students in the state aren’t aware of. If students aren’t from the state, many states have similar programs. These programs ensure poor students graduate. Even if schools like Skidmore don’t have a program like HEOP or a student doesn’t get into HEOP, they still have the resources to help a student attend and graduate from their school.

There are schools out there that still give great financial aid packages to high performing and hard working poor students with leadership skills. But since there is a lack of knowledge, it is up to us to expose these schools to students. Those of us who graduated from these kinds of schools have to change the conversation. I was able to do that with my mentee, Gaetan Lamy.

Before Gaetan and I put out a book called Different Families, Still Brothers, we were just a mentor/mentee pair in the iMentor program trying to figure each other out. He had a limited view of what a private college was and didn’t know what HEOP was. He had his heart set on CUNY’s Baruch College. Throughout the first year of our pair, which was his junior year, I exposed him to schools like Skidmore and HEOP. I believe every hardworking poor student should get the chance to experience going away to a private school.

When it came to applying, he applied to some of the schools I exposed him to and took other people’s suggestions. In the end, he got into Long Island University’s HEOP. He’s in good hands. But now, he’s even thinking about moving on to a better school like some of the away schools we discussed.

In that experience with Gaetan, I learned how much I could do with my knowledge of the college admissions process and schools like Skidmore. All of us from these kind of schools have this same knowledge to offer. All of us can be mentors. We can do it with a program such as iMentor or on our own.

Let’s change the conversation! Let’s change the face of government which usually consists of those from Ivy League schools and privileged backgrounds. Let’s change the faces of doctors, lawyers, pastors, business owners and teachers operating in poor neighborhoods to reflect more upon those they serve. If all of us do our part, we can change the face of the world.