Before a student arrives on college campus and unpacks their things in their dorm room, they must first get accepted. Before that, they must have an interest in attending college at all. However, it takes more than interest. There’s a lot that goes into the college acceptance equation, from contemplating possible career options and pairing that with the right major to finding the right school at the right price while scoring well on the ACT/SAT test, filling out applications and going on interviews.
Next fall, 40 juniors at Champlin Park High School will be taken under the wing of a coach with College Possible who will guide them through the process.
College Possible is a nationally recognized nonprofit making college admission and success possible for low-income students. They will be expanding to Champlin Park High School next fall thanks to a Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota Foundation grant awarded to Anoka-Hennepin School District and the City of Brooklyn Park.
The grant dedicates $75,000 each year for two years to the program. It is part of the insurance company’s health equity initiative to address the root cause of health issues. The program is completely privately funded with no cost to Champlin Park High School or the district.
“Education and poverty are two main factors driving poor health issues,” said Lara Dreier, program director for College Possible. “This expansion will put a college degree within reach for more low-income students in the Anoka-Hennepin School District, helping to break the cycle of poverty and improve health outcomes.”
Dreier said the organization already has begun recruiting current sophomores for the program. To qualify, students must have a 2.0 GPA or higher and come from low-income families. Students who receive free reduced lunch or fall below 200 percent on the poverty guidelines will be eligible.
The program is already functioning at Coon Rapids High School as well as numerous other schools throughout the state. Founded in 2000 and based in St. Paul, College Possible served 35 students in its first year, partnering with public high schools in Minneapolis and St. Paul. The program has grown more than 200-fold in twelve years, adding school partners in the Columbia Heights, Robbinsdale, St. Louis Park, Osseo, Bloomington and Anoka Hennepin Districts. With the addition of Champlin Park High School, College Possible will be serving more than 1,600 students in 20 partner high schools in the Twin Cities this fall. To help these students succeed, 59 AmeriCorps members will commit more than 100,300 hours of service as coaches on high school and college campuses as well as remotely through technology.
“Champlin Park High School is ecstatic about College Possible coming to our campus,” said Champlin Park High School Principal Michael George. “I have been witness to the program and all it has to offer students, which makes it a necessary addition to the work we are doing each day to prepare our students for life after high school. This program will provide targeted services to qualifying students that have a variety of challenges to overcome, and in most cases, these students will be the first in their family to attend college. I am excited to watch College Possible change lives.”
College Possible students will meet twice per week in after school sessions during their junior and senior years of high school. Evening sessions will also be available for students who participate in extracurricular activties. Coaches support students in small learning groups and one-on-one, providing free ACT/SAT test preparation, intensive guidance in preparing college applications, help in obtaining financial aid and guidance in the transition to college. After graduation, students receive support from college coaches renewing their FAFSA, getting connected to existing resources on campus, and searching for scholarships and internships. Coaches continue to serve the students through their senior year and even through college graduation.
While the experience is invaluable for the students in the program, Dreier says it is also rewarding and often emotional for the AmeriCorps volunteers too.
“We meet each week with the coaches and there’s a lot of excitement and inevitably some tears as acceptance letters roll in and we celebrate the students’ successes,” said Dreier. She also said the coaches work with students to set goals and make plans that include a range of schools from “safer” schools to “reach” schools. They also work to keep them motivated throughout the entire process if disappointments arise, which is all a part of the experience.
Last year, 99 percent of the 668 College Possible seniors earned admission to more than 100 colleges and universities, and were awarded more than $4.4 million in scholarships. The juniors in the program achieved an average ACT score increase of 27 percent last year. The current 6-year college graduation rate is 58 percent, which is slightly above the national average and is five times the rate of low income students nationally.
Contact Mindy Mateuszczyk at [email protected]