In the 1980s, Deborah Bial was dismayed to meet a young man, an alumnus of New York City public schools, who dropped out of college.
“He said he never would have dropped out if he had his posse with him,” Bial told Opportunity Lives. “All of a sudden an idea was born.”
The word that jumped out to Bial was “posse,” a common word in 1980s youth culture to describe a circle of close friends. College graduates enjoy a considerable wage premium, and Bial and her team wanted to help more students achieve this designation. Students from disadvantaged backgrounds are less likely to graduate, in part, Bial said, due to culture shock and lack of preparation from their high schools.
“There’s also this idea that if I go to a campus away from home I’ll feel completely out of place, so that deters students,” Bial said. “Once you get to campus if you feel like you don’t fit in that contributes to attrition.”
Bial founded The Posse Foundation in 1989 to help high school students from at-risk communities cross the finish line through college. Since then, more than 6,000 students have received Posse mentoring and some $800 million in merit scholarships to prestigious schools across the country.
For its traditional candidate pool, Posse identifies high school students and places them in “Posses” of 10 students, which become a close-knit, family away from home. Colleges and universities that work with Posse award Posse Scholars four-year, full-tuition scholarships. Before they arrive, they’ve also got months of pre-college training and support from Posse. Seeing some post 9-11 veterans returning from the battlefield and struggling on the home front, Posse leaders also expanded their program to offer support for military veterans attending college.
Posse students end up graduating college at a rate of 90 percent, much higher than students from similar socioeconomic profiles. Students have gone on to fill prestigious roles, from assistant D.A. to cancer researcherto university professor. Bial’s work was honored with a prestigious MacArthur Foundation “Genius Grant.”
“You aren’t in Posse just for college, you’re in Posse for life,” she said. “This is a special network that is very diverse and very representative and it makes us see that the American Dream is really possible.”
The Posse program is highly competitive; just 4.4%, or 670 out of 15,000 student nominees nationwide were accepted in the most recent cohort. They are selected on criteria ranging from test scores to leadership potential.
“What I hear them say is that they feel impressed by their peers, that they see that they’re part of a network that is going to make positive change and be successful,” Bial said. “To know that you’re part of a network like that, I think, is a powerful feeling. And you rise to the occasion, and you kind of know you can reach as high as you want because you have a great group of people backing you up.”
Posse has nine sites ranging from Atlanta to Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami and New Orleans. Its first partner school was Vanderbilt University; the list has grown to include prestigious schools like the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Virginia, UCLA, UC-Berkeley and Vassar College.
“What motivates me is this idea that we can help graduate a much more diverse pool of talent from the top universities in the country,” Bial said. “Mined by industry leaders for some of the most prestigious jobs, we’ll be able to see coming from Posse, and from our partner schools, young people who will be CEOs, who will be leaders of nonprofits, senators, congressmen, young people who will sit in the board rooms and reflect the diversity of America.”
Ned Price, a D.C.-based Posse volunteer, said he was impressed with the unique Posse concept and has mentored about a half dozen Posse Scholars in recent years.
“The most rewarding element of my involvement has been watching my Scholars succeed over the years,” Price told Opportunity Lives. “The transition to college is never simple or easy, but my scholars have done tremendously well academically and have found success in their extracurricular endeavors as well. And many of them, including two who have since graduated college, continue to remain in touch, occasionally updating me on their successes. Nothing has been more gratifying than hearing of their accomplishments.”
Read the original article here on Opportunity Lives…
Carrie Sheffield is the founder of Bold. She is passionate about storytelling to empower and connect others. A founding POLITICO reporter, Carrie contributed on political economy at Forbes and wrote editorials for The Washington Times. After earning a master’s in public policy from Harvard University, she managed credit risk at Goldman Sachs and researched for American Enterprise Institute scholar Edward Conard. She earned a B.A. in communications at Brigham Young University and completed a Fulbright fellowship in Berlin.