Make Colleges Diverse

In The New York Times this week, David Leonhardt wrote the opinion piece Make Colleges Diverse about a new initiative to increase the number of Pell Grant recipients attending colleges with the highest graduation rates. Our Executive Director, Diana Wolf, shared the following response with Mr. Leonhardt:

For the past 20 years, nonprofit Meritus College Fund has invested in the college success of youth from low-income San Francisco communities. As Meritus’ executive director for 12 of those 20 years, I understand the barriers to success these young people face and the strategies that help drive their achievement at four-year colleges.

While scholarships are a critical tool in attracting students to elite institutions, it is equally important to provide ongoing support that contributes to retention and ultimately, graduation. In serving mostly first-generation students, a holistic approach, we have found, is often the difference between derailment and promotion.

A holistic approach includes:

  • Personalizing advising to identify a student’s unique needs and contributing to college persistence and personal growth
  • Fostering a sense of belonging to allow students to feel confident as active participants in the college community
  • Building support networks through mentoring to create a trusting environment that validates student aspirations and experiences
  • Connecting to resources both in- and outside of the classroom that present opportunities for advancement at all levels of student development: academically, socially, and professionally

Many of our Scholars view their journey as one that they are making for others: for their parents, for their siblings, for their community. They feel great responsibility in achieving their goals. Many do not feel entitled to the higher education they will receive and consequently may not ask for help when they need it. Many wonder if they can compete academically or integrate socially.  And simply affording college can mean having to work multiple jobs to make ends meet.

College is a time of exploration, tremendous personal growth with many pivot points where an informed and caring partner can be a reminder of motivation, a guide in solving problems, and a source in identifying opportunities. Through advising, career mentorship, and career exploration, students to stay on track and make the most of their college experience, earn a diploma, and set their sights on building a brighter future post-graduation.

Investing in education is an investment in self-sufficiency and economic mobility.  It begins with a scholarship, but requires a deeper investment to facilitate integration and success. Let us not forget that we all benefit from perspectives provided by “non-elites” in moving the country forward.

Meritus College Fund was recognized as “Scholarship Provider of the Year 2016” by the National Scholarship Association.