Dreaming Big! – A note from our Executive Director

By Lynne Martin,

Executive Director, Students Rising Above

We watched our daughter graduate from college last week.  It was a thrilling moment for her and for us when she walked across the stage.

She didn’t have an easy journey.  There were adjustments to East Coast living, roommate drama, and the challenges of navigating college.  But going to college was never in question.  It was an expectation we set early; of course she would go.

For low-income, first generation college students, however, there is no such expectation. For many, attending college is not on the radar.  It’s simply out of reach for economic and other reasons.  For those who do consider the next level of education, it comes with the risk of being alienated from family members who fear they will be left behind.

Rising Above

For those of us here at SRA, this is the time of year where we have an opportunity to help those students who dare to dream big. It’s a time of hope.

Right now, we’re in the selection process for our new class of 2014.  It is so inspiring to see so many young people with the courage and desire to make college a reality.

This year, for the first time, we will be able to accept 100 students—our largest class ever!  The demand has never been greater; over 500 students applied this year.  Choosing those 100 students requires gut-wrenching decisions.  Who do we accept? What happens to the other 400 students we don’t choose?

We wish we could help everyone because the need is so great, and the opportunity to change lives is so compelling.

No One Should Be Left Behind

Too many low-income students today aren’t getting the chance to attend college to build skills for a modern economy.  Limited understanding of the financial aid process, a need to earn money, social isolation, and a lack of guidance from family and school officials is often insurmountable.

For the first generation students who do attend college, the odds are against them. They are four times more likely to drop out after their first year than their more advantaged peers.  The national graduation rate for low-income, first generation students ranges from 34% to 43% (Pell Institute, Double Whammy of Disadvantage).  Put another way, six in 10 fail – they never graduate. The rates are even lower for African American and Latino students.

At SRA, we’re turning around these dismal statistics.  Ninety percent of SRA students graduate from college.  We’ve succeed by providing a comprehensive program that delivers financial support, one-on-one mentoring, access to healthcare, and career guidance.  Our goal is to graduate students with the education and experience to successfully transition into the work force.  This educational investment breaks the cycle of poverty for our students and for their future families.

Failure Is Not An Option

In a recent speech at Stanford University, former Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice commented that “failing schools undermine economic growth, competitiveness, social cohesion and the ability to fill positions in institutions vital to national security.”  Furthermore, “inequities in education are dividing the country, creating two Americas – those capable in the modern economy and those who are not.”

College opens up a world of possibility that fosters new confidence and opportunities.  We’re pleased to say that by the end of the month, we’ll have 305 students in our program. With the continued support of the SRA Community, we’re committed to sending even more students to college every year.

Family friends have congratulated us in getting our daughter through college. My husband and I are grateful for their kind words.  But from my perspective, there are 305 more graduations to go – and counting.

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