Cities Pledge High Schoolers
"You Will Go to College"

By Bennett Davis
American News Service

Joylynn Jossel was 16, a junior at an urban high school in Columbus, Ohio, and a new mother. "I had the grades to go to college, but with the baby I put it out of my mind," she says. Her vision of her future: �Get a job," she shrugs. "Get money."

Then Joanne Davis -- a volunteer with a Columbus program called "I Know I Can" -- came into Jossel's English class one day.

"She told me, 'If you have financial problems, personal problems or academic problems, we'll work them out. Do you want to go to college? If the answer is yes, you're going.'"

This spring, Jossel graduated from Ohio's Capital University. Now a paralegal, she expects to begin law school this fall. More than two dozen citywide programs like I Know I Can have anticipated President Clinton's call to open the doors of college or technical schools to all students. Initiatives from the Cleveland Scholarship Program to the Scholarship Foundation of Santa Barbara are making a pledge to every public school student: if you earn the grades, we�ll help you find the money and other resources to go to college.

Like Clinton, many of the urban programs have been inspired by Georgia�s HOPE Scholarship plan, which promises to fund up to four years at a public college for all high school students in the state graduating with a B average or better if they maintain a similar grade average in college.

But, unlike Georgia's plan, the growing number of urban programs offer more than strictly financial forms of aid.

They strive to give all students who want to go to college the tools to surmount barriers -- academic, financial or bureaucratic -- that stand between them and their goal of higher education.

With public and private dollars, the programs are stepping in at a crucial time.

While college attendance is up among all income groups, only about half of low and moderate-income families send their children to college compared with 90 percent of affluent families, according to the nonprofit College Board in Washington, D.C. The board's figures also show that gap widening in recent years.

Also, though public and private tuition aid is at record levels --about $50 billion for the current academic year -- so is the gap between college costs and available aid. The maximum federal Pell grant, a common form of scholarship, covered about 40 percent of costs at a private university two decades ago but only about 15 percent in 1995, said College Board analyst Larry Gladieux.

That's where local college-access programs come in.

They typically offer help to any high school student who asks for it. While some initiatives provide only scholarship funds, many also help students learn study and test-taking skills, choose a college, and apply for financial aid. Most programs also can link students with tutors, social service agencies and other forms of individual help.

The key to most programs is multi year "last-dollar grants." If a student is accepted by a college but hasn't garnered enough financial aid to attend, a program will give the final bit of money that fills the gap up to specified limits. Such gifts may be as much as $1,500 annually per student -- renewed in most cases as long as students maintain at least a C average.

While Georgia's HOPE Scholarships require high school students to earn a B average to qualify for aid, Clinton's tax-credit proposal and most college-access programs impose no grade requirements on students to qualify for first-year grants. Said Thekla Shackelford, a former teacher who chairs I Know I Can's board: "If a student is accepted by a college, that's all we ask."

However, a few programs, including The Crosby Scholars in Winston-Salem, N.C., do require high school students to sign a pledge not to use drugs or break the law.

Like other programs, The Crosby Scholars sends it's 325 retirees, executives, homemakers and other volunteers into high schools to urge college as a practical possibility for students who otherwise might assume they can't go -- often because no one in their families had done so before, and they don't know to apply for admission or financial help.

During students' senior year in high school, the volunteers work closely with students and their families to ensure that they understand the application process, meet deadlines and have help in working through unexpected difficulties.

"My I Know I Can adviser helped me keep a schedule so I knew the dates when certain forms had to be mailed," says Andrea Kalufanya, now a sophomore at Ohio's private Kenyon College. After Kalufanya missed one college entrance exam because he lacked transportation, on the next test date his program adviser drove to his home and took him herself.

When Kenyon College accepted Kalufanya but didn't offer enough financial aid to enable him to enroll, the adviser negotiated a moregenerous aid package with the school's aid officer.

"She motivated me," Kalufanya says. "She let me know that I�m capable of succeeding in a school like Kenyon.�

High Returns Claimed for College-Access Programs

High school students who sign up for college access programs, such as I Know I Can, are more likely than others to make it all the way through college, according to recent findings.

In Baltimore, for example, a four-year study at the University of Maryland found that more than 80 percent of its last-dollar scholars graduated compared with barely half of all the university's students during the same period.

A 1995 Brandeis University study of six college-access programs also noted that participating students graduate from high school in higher numbers -- as high as 75 percent, compared with often less than 50 percent in urban schools.

"These benefits far outweigh program costs," the report concludes. Clearly, the return on investment for spending now to encourage college attendance and retention will yield a hefty payoff in the future."

The study also cites figures from Baltimore's College Bound Foundation that show that for every dollar in last-minute aid the foundation pledges, the typical last-dollar scholar wins more than $6 in aid from other sources -- aid that the student couldn't use without the foundation�s gift.

Copyright ©1997 American News Service

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