Koyoua Vang and Shomari Nash both knew they wanted to attend college. Since their parents had not graduated from college, they knew they would need help navigating the admissions process. College Possible was a natural fit.
Vang and Nash were among 159 students from seven Milwaukee Public Schools who gathered recently with College Possible program staff and coaches, friends and family to celebrate their graduation and admittance to more than 80 colleges and universities across the United States.
Vang, a senior at the International Peace Academy, will be attending Marquette University in the fall. Nash, a senior at the Milwaukee School of Languages, is heading to Northern Illinois University. They both credit their coaches, AmeriCorps members Mike Molzberger and Amanda Wysk, with helping them get admitted.
“When I got my FAFSA form, I didn’t know what it meant, so I had Amanda … explain it to me,” Vang said. Vang balanced school, an internship at Tri-City National Bank, and after school meetings with College Possible twice a week. When she couldn’t make the meetings, she completed make-up work in study hall.
Nash said, “The coaches really helped me … get into college and prepare for a better future.”
Nationwide, a student from an upper income family is 10 times more likely to earn a college degree as a low-income student. According to Postsecondary Education Opportunity, 82 percent of students from the top income quartile earn a college degree by age 24 compared to 8 percent of low-income students.
College Possible, a national organization with one of its three locations in Milwaukee, is reversing the trend by making college admission and success possible for low-income students through an intensive curriculum of coaching and support. There are a total of 350 juniors and seniors in the Milwaukee program.
The two-year program for low-income high school juniors and seniors more than doubles their chance of enrollment in a four-year institution. Ninety-eight percent of students earn admission into college, and nearly 80 percent of admitted students have graduated or are on track to do so.
At the ceremony, each student’s name was called, and each school put on a presentation or video. “After doing so much work, they have the chance just to show their goofy side,” said Hannah Wallisch, College Possible external relations and operations coordinator.
By the end of their two years in the program, the students complete at least 320 hours of coaching sessions with AmeriCorps members who are themselves recent college graduates. The teenagers learn about the college application process, prepare to take the ACT or SAT, visit college campuses, participate in summer enrichment opportunities, learn to write college essays, navigate the Free Application for Federal Student Aid and get advice on applying for scholarships.
All of the programming is voluntary, but participation is high because “students care about what we’re doing and about getting into college,” Wallisch said.
Once in college, students continue to be supported by College Possible, which connects them with existing campus resources, provides financial assistance and builds a support network.
Obtaining adequate financial resources is a huge hurdle College Possible students face, so they are required to apply for financial aid and at least 10 scholarships. For both Vang and Nash, the scholarship application process was the most challenging aspect of the program.
Vang again credited Wysk, saying, “Her list of scholarships was my savior.” Of the 11 scholarships she applied for, Vang has received three rejections; the other eight are still pending. She does have a scholarship from Marquette and federal assistance.
Meeting scholarship deadlines and writing essays was a challenge for Nash too, but it has paid off. He’s been awarded a $20,000 Horatio Alger National Scholarship.