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Meritus Announces $888,000 in Awards to 55 Low-Income, College-Bound Graduates of San Francisco High Schools

SAN FRANCISCO, CA: Meritus College Fund, a grassroots college success program addressing issues of equity and access for under-served San Francisco youth, is privileged to announce its 19th class of Scholars. After a rigorous selection process, 55 graduates from San Francisco high schools who demonstrate grit and ambition in their pursuit of a college education will join the program and receive $880,000 in scholarship support. Donors invest $16,000 in each recipient which provides four years of scholarship funding, one-on-one coaching, mentoring, and career development. Meritus’ objective is to support these Scholars, 98% of whom are the first in their families to attend college, as they navigate the challenges that accompany higher education, eventually building a pathway to socio-economic mobility.

88% of Meritus Scholars graduate from college. This outcome stands in stark when compared to the 23% graduation rate of low-income youth across the country.

Meritus Scholars come from circumstances not only marked by poverty, but also face language barriers, societal tensions, violence, and family distress, which makes making their academic achievements all the more noteworthy. Graduating high school seniors who are selected as Meritus Scholars demonstrate significant financial need and achieve a GPA of 3.0 to 3.7. Eighty percent of Meritus Scholars come from families with annual incomes below $40,000 – well below the median household income of $75,604 for San Francisco households in 2009-2013.[1]

Meritus Scholars come from circumstances not only marked by poverty, but also face language barriers, societal tensions, violence, and family distress, which makes making their academic achievements all the more noteworthy. Graduating high school seniors who are selected as Meritus Scholars demonstrate significant financial need and achieve a GPA of 3.0 to 3.7. Eighty percent of Meritus Scholars come from families with annual incomes below $40,000 – well below the median household income of $75,604 for San Francisco households in 2009-2013.[2]

The class of 2015 reflects the diverse make-up of San Francisco: 34% Latino, 24% Chinese, 22% African American, 9% South East Asian, 5% Filipino, 2% Middle Eastern, 2% Caucasian, and 2% Vietnamese. The 55 Scholars – 42% male and 58% female – represent 16 public and two parochial high schools in San Francisco. While students are still in the process of working with staff to choose their colleges and universities, 80% of Scholars will likely attend public universities in California, 12% will attend private out-of-state, and 8% will matriculate in private in-state schools.

The Meritus model has been replicated  ​regionally, both through East Bay College Fund and Peninsula​ College Fund.​

A recent Brookings Institute study continued to identify San Francisco as one of the worst cities with respect to the income gap between the rich and poor, with the top 5% of the population earning more than 17 times that of the bottom 20%.[3] Since 1996, Meritus has addressed this inequity by providing over 650 low-income San Francisco youth with direct aid – amounting to more than $8.5 million in scholarship funding alone. 70% of the funding for Meritus Scholars comes from individual donors who value education.

The Meritus mission aligns with the national education initiative launched in fall 2013 by First Lady Michelle Obama which seeks to impact access to and completion of higher education. Obama – a first-generation college student herself – recognizes that college is now becoming a minimum requirement in accessing middle class jobs and is key to impacting the socio-economic mobility and stability of low-income populations. This reality is reflected by one of a 2015 Meritus Scholars who explains:

College is important to me because I want a better future. Coming from a low income family and having to see my parents work hard from morning to night everyday just to be able to feed me and my sisters motivates me … I also want to serve as an inspiration for my sisters…  Going to college is not just a personal accomplishment, but it also serves as an example of rising above adversity for my community.

Executive Director, Diana Wolf, is pleased to announce the new class of Meritus Scholars: “Our students have overcome significant challenges in reaching the college threshold. Our job is to take them through college, help them to set their sights on long-term outcomes, and to open doors to opportunities that will impact their socio-economic circumstances. Such outcomes are in the best interest of the whole community, and Meritus achieves this one student at a time.”

Recipients of the award will be introduced June 2, 2015, at 6pm at KQED Studios in a celebratory event formally acknowledging their selection as Meritus Scholars. These students will also have the opportunity to meet their donors for the first time – individuals in the community who will follow their Scholar’s progress over the next four years and have a keen interest in addressing poverty through educational advancement.

CONTACT:          

Diana Wolf, Executive Director

Meritus College Fund

415.400.8640

Diana@meritusfund.org

[1] San Francisco County QuickFacts from the US Census Bureau. N.p., 31 Mar. 2015. Web. 04 May 2015.

[2] San Francisco County QuickFacts from the US Census Bureau. N.p., 31 Mar. 2015. Web. 04 May 2015.

[3] Berube, Alan. “Some cities are still more unequal than others —an update.”  The Brookings Institution. N.p., 17 Mar. 2015. Web. 04 May. 2015.