When Laura d’Almeida emigrated from Togo in West Africa to Minnesota in 2010, she wanted to go to college. But she said the difficult process of applying and preparing for post-secondary education left her feeling confused.
D’Almeida, now a freshman at the University of Minnesota, said she sought help from College Possible, a program that helps low-income college and high school students navigate their way through post-secondary education.
Now, state lawmakers are considering a funding boost to the St. Paul-based nonprofit. If the proposal passes through the legislative process, it would provide $4 million over the next two years and help College Possible expand statewide.
In 2013, about 45 percent of the nation’s high school students from low-income backgrounds attended a two- or four-year college — compared to a total average of about 66 percent of all high schoolers.
“[College Possible’s] goal is that a student’s future potential [isn’t] determined based on their family’s income,” said Anna Rockne, the program’s external relations specialist.
The nonprofit was founded in 2000 under the name Admission Possible. The organization encourages higher education enrollment and completion by placing coaches in local high schools and colleges. The mentors are AmeriCorps members who serve a 10-month term from August to June.
There are 23 Minnesota high schools that partner with College Possible, and mentors help juniors and seniors apply to college, prepare for the ACT and SAT, write application essays and bring students on campus tours, among other things.
In high school, d’Almeida said College Possible helped her tour several campuses and apply to more than 20 different colleges for free.
Asma Day is d’Almeida’s College Possible mentor and is one of three coaches at the University who assist about 400 students on campus.
Day, who came to Minnesota from Oman, said she feels blessed by her life’s opportunities, and she joined College Possible to give back.
D’Almeida contacts Day whenever she needs academic or emotional support.
“She’s not only a resource but like a friend and a mentor and a sister,” she said.
On-campus coaches help program participants find internships, apply for scholarships, file financial aid information and provide general support.
“You can be smart and intelligent,” d’Almeida said. “But sometimes all you need is just somebody to help you through it.”
The program’s students have a 55 percent six-year graduation rate compared to 11 percent for low-income students who are not enrolled in the program, according to data from the organization.
This year, the organization has helped 11,000 high school and college students in Minnesota, Rockne said.
To qualify for College Possible, high school students must hold at least a 2.0 GPA and come from a low-income family, which is usually based on whether they receive free or reduced lunch, Rockne said.
Malik Day, a Carlson School of Management sophomore, said he probably would not have gone to college without help from the organization. Day is the first in his family to attend college.
Last year, the Legislature approved a $750,000 one-time appropriation to the organization, which helped the program expand to colleges in outstate Minnesota, Rockne said. This year’s legislation would help the program continue its expansion.
In total, the organization has expanded to four other cities around the country, and it plans to open the program in Chicago, Rockne said.
Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, the author of this session’s proposal, said he doesn’t know the likelihood of the legislation passing in its current form. But he said he thinks College Possible will at least get some amount of state funding.