Today, a college degree is basically a prerequisite for a decent job. And yet, only about 50 percent of the American public ever attend a four-year institution, and about half of those that do graduate. As a result, only 25 percent of the American public end up with a four-year college degree.
The situation is dire when we consider the American population in general. But for minorities, the numbers paint an even bleaker picture, as college-going and completion rates for African Americans are significantly lower than those for whites and Asians. The fastest growing population in the United States is the Latino population. However, they are also the population with the poorest college-going and completion rates. This is a very dangerous trend, since it will continue to foster what many believe is already an American class system based on race
Within the next several decades, whites will no longer be the majority in the United States. In fact, they are already the minority in our biggest cities. Unless we reverse the growing educational gap, we will ensure a future in which our country’s leadership is even less representative of the population, and, in so doing, drift further from our most treasured democratic ideals.
The rising cost of tuition is also contributing to the crisis. Consider the fact that only 7 percent of all lower-income students get a bachelor’s degree by age 26, compared to 60 percent of upper-income students. Since 1992, college cost as a percentage of family income increased by 16 percent for the lowest 20 percent and increased by only 1 percent for the highest 20 percent. Distribution of wealth is clearly a compounding factor.
Our public high schools must bear some of the responsibility for not adequately preparing many students for a postsecondary education. However, while our public school systems are terribly broken—some might even say beyond repair—we have to continue to believe in and support our young people. And as we work to solve the challenges we face in trying to equitably and excellently educate all our young people, we have to devise strategies for supporting the thousands of intelligent students who are shortchanged by our underresourced public schools but who have ambitions and dreams as powerful as those of their more privileged peers.
Posse began in 1989 to help address these challenges. The program’s name was inspired by a student who said that he never would have dropped out of college if he had had his posse with him. It is built around the simple idea that driven, academically capable public high school students stand a better chance of thriving at selective colleges and universities when they attend together in supportive groups, or “Posses.” We know that there are students in public high schools across the country who can thrive at selective colleges and universities, but who, for one reason or another, tend to be missed by traditional recruitment practices. Through its unique screening process, Posse makes these young student leaders visible. This combined with Posse’s comprehensive support program — which includes eight months of intensive precollegiate training, on-campus support, and a career program — ensures that Posse Scholars excel.
Posse currently has partnerships with 32 colleges and universities. These institutions have awarded Posse Scholars over $220 million in leadership merit scholarships to 2,200 Scholars since the program’s inception. Most impressive, these students are persisting and graduating at a rate of over 90 percent — well above the national average.
Posse Scholars perform well academically and are dynamic student leaders. On average, 70 percent either form new
Today, Posse recruits students from six cities — Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and Washington, D.C. — supports 1,000 Scholars on campus, and boasts a growing alumni base. By 2020, Posse expects to be established in 10 cities and to support 4,000 students on campus, with close to 7,000 alumni in the work force. And this is the ultimate goal of the program.
Posse’s group of graduates will represent a radically different kind of network—one unlike any this country has seen before. It will represent the true diversity of this country and therefore reflect the concerns, the cares, the dreams of all Americans. It will be this network that will sit at the tables where decisions get made and better represent the voice of the collective.
Investment in higher education produces a social good. Posse takes this idea one step further and works to develop a powerful network of leaders in the work force who can lead all of us to a better place in the future.
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