Four years after graduating from St. Paul’s Central High School, Mai Youa Moua is back.
The Macalester College graduate returned to Central last fall to work with Admission Possible, a St. Paul-based program that helps low-income juniors and seniors prepare for college. It’s the same program that helped her gain admission to Macalester.
Moua’s school success story isn’t unique. She’s one of seven Admission Possible graduates who returned to area high schools this year to work with students.
In ten years, Admission Possible has seen more than 2,200 of its participants go to college. The program began in two schools in Minneapolis and St. Paul in 2001. Now it’s in 19 Twin Cities high schools and four Milwaukee high schools. In January, the nonprofit group announced a national expansion that calls for Admission Possible to have branches in as many as 10 cities by 2015.
Jim McCorkell, founder and chief executive officer, will serve as CEO of the organization’s central office. A search is underway for an executive director for Admission Possible of the Greater Twin Cities.
Natalie Rule, Admission Possible’s director of external relations, said the group is hoping to expand to one or two cities per year, but she’s not sure where yet. “That all depends on funding,” she said. “Our model works so effectively in dense population areas, we know we’ll work in metro areas first.”
The expansion effort comes on the heels of recognition Admission Possible received from President Obama last June in a speech about social entrepreneurship. “Ninety-nine percent of the Admission Possible class of 2008 got into college-99 percent,” the president said. “Admission Possible operates in just two states now. So imagine if it was 10, or 20, or 50.”
The president’s statistics are true. Overall, 98 percent of students who have gone through the program have been admitted to college. Nearly 80 percent are still working toward degrees or have graduated.
Part of the program’s success lies in its use of AmeriCorps volunteers to serve as coaches and fill some staff positions. AmeriCorps is a national service program that pays new college graduates small stipends for their work. Admission Possible employs 67 AmeriCorps volunteers. Each coach spends a year or two working with 30 to 40 low-income students in teams of 10 to 15.
“The AmeriCorps program is what is making Admission Possible so successful,” Rule said. “We are utilizing recent college graduates. We are not paying. They get a very modest living stipend. It’s a very cost-effective model.”
Moua found out about the AmeriCorps position through her Admission Possible college coach. Another component to the program is a 12-member support team that provides group and one-on-one assistance to students while they are in college. Moua said her coach sent emails throughout her years at Macalester, reminding her to apply for scholarships or to give her information about internships.
“I got an email from my Admission Possible college coach that said Admission Possible was looking for AmeriCorps volunteers,” she said. Now she spends her weekdays in a small office at Central with other AmeriCorps workers preparing for her after-school sessions and being available to her students if they need her. She’s okay with the low pay for now. It helps that she lives with her parents.
Having former Admission Possible students fill those coach positions is important, Moua said. “A lot of students are Hmong, and I understand their problems. I also think that for my students it’s very beneficial to see where Admission Possible can take them.”
That’s how she discovered Macalester. Her Admission Possible coach was a Macalester student. Her older brothers had all attended a local community college, and she thought that’s what she would do. “I never thought I’d go to a private school. I didn’t know I could do that,” she said. The program helped her learn that many colleges offer both merit and need-based aid. She applied to five colleges, and Macalester gave her the best financial aid package.
Admission Possible was founded by McCorkell, who grew up in Northfield in a low-income family with parents who never finished high school. Nevertheless, he went on to Carleton College and Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. He helped pay for college by teaching Kaplan SAT prep courses. That was the seed for Admission Possible: he thought he could replicate that kind of program for poor students.
Students who come into the program must have a 2.0 GPA or higher, a solid school attendance record, and a commitment to attend two after-school sessions each week during their junior and senior years and some weekends. The program provides free ACT and SAT preparation, visits to college campuses, guidance in preparing college admissions applications, help obtaining financial aid, and tips on transitioning from high school to college.
Admission Possible’s Rule said the commitment a student shows by being in the program is attractive to college admissions counselors. “It gives them the indication that this kid is going to be successful,” she said.