College Possible


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I am always thankful for the generosity of our donors, the commitment of our leadership team and coaches, and the sheer perseverance of the students we serve. But as this year comes to a close and I reflect upon 2018, I feel more than thankful – I feel inspired.

  • Four years ago, with funding and guidance from the U.S. Department of the Treasury, we began studying the impact our financial advising had on our students. With the release of those findings in September, we can now say with conviction that our financial literacy curriculum leads to our students making better financial decisions and feeling more confident about those decisions.

  • Three years ago we initiated a study with Hope Lab of Wisconsin, run out of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, to assess the impact of College Possible coaching on college application and enrollment. This spring, the findings showed that students in our program are 30 percent more likely than their high school peers to apply to and enroll in a degree-granting institution.

  • Just over two years ago we launched Catalyze, the partnership program that brings the College Possible model to colleges and universities, allowing them to replicate and implement our curriculum and coaching approach on their own campuses. Today, we have already partnered with seven universities to serve almost 2,000 students from low-income backgrounds.

  • In September, College Possible was awarded the first-ever Evergreen National Education Award in recognition of our best-in-class college access and success programming and outcomes.

These accomplishments give me energy to continue our work to close the degree divide, and inspire our staff, coaches and students to put in just one more hour, write one more proposal, complete one more scholarship application…to go above and beyond in service to our vision of a day when students from low-income backgrounds graduate from college at a rate that is equal to that of their upper-income peers.

If we, as a nation, were able to accomplish that, the 2.4 million students from low-income backgrounds currently on America’s campuses would fill our country’s workforce needs and support a competitive economy. And, perhaps most importantly, it would take our country one more step in the direction of America’s fundamental promise that if you work hard and play by the rules, you’ll get a fair shot to go as far in life as your talents and effort can take you.

Jim McCorkell
CEO and Founder



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College Bound, Together

karizma and Niayla, college possible Chicago

New isn’t always bad. However, Karizma certainly thought it was when she learned that her family would be leaving Milwaukee and moving to Chicago’s South Side. She would have to enroll at a new high school as a junior, in a new city and hope to make new friends. Fortunately, her college aspirations were far from new and, prior to leaving her Milwaukee high school, she had applied and was accepted into a program called College Possible. As luck would have it, her new school, Bowen High School, happened to be one of five Chicago schools partnered with College Possible. Suddenly, she was part of a like-minded college-going community that felt much more familiar.

It was at her College Possible sessions after school where she met her friend, Niayla. “The two of them hit it off right away,” their College Possible coach, Jessica, said. They supported and encouraged each other through SAT test prep, multiple practice tests, financial aid and college applications.

Together they took advantage of College Possible campus trips, with Western Illinois University making the biggest impression on the pair. “They were very excited for the trip to WIU. Niayla slept at Karizma’s house the night before. That next morning we all boarded an Amtrak to Macomb, IL,” Jessica said. “When they got back they couldn’t stop talking about the trip.” They knew they had found the right school for them.

Both Karizma and Niayla earned admission and received financial aid packages from WIU that allowed their dream school to become a reality. “They will be amazing,” Jessica said. “Both are driven, have a strong work ethic and continue to persevere through whatever life throws at them. They have each other to lean on when times get tough and a friend to celebrate each other’s triumphs.”

Karizma and Niayla, now roommates, are enjoying spending time together and getting accustomed to the nuances of undergraduate life. While their college town is not quite as bustling as their hometown of Chicago, they love having movie nights and getting to know new friends in their residence hall.

Niayla is exploring her interests in psychology and criminology. Karizma is pursuing a double major in computer science and engineering. She loves how her courses immerse her in a world of numbers and data. Although transitioning to their new environment has been taxing at times, Karizma feels comforted knowing her new college coach, Corinne, is always available to support her whenever she needs help. Their regular check-ins keep her on top of project deadlines and assignments. Spontaneous FaceTime calls help them build their connection and allow them to chat about everyday things, like her upcoming trip to Arizona.

Karizma and Niayla are just two of the nearly 900 high school and college students supported by College Possible Chicago this year. Finding the right college match, both academically and financially, is essential to making their journeys successful. Through hard work and determination, Niayla and Karizma have found the right school to help achieve their dreams of becoming college graduates.




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“College Possible has provided me so much support; it is indescribable.”

Ana, college possible Philadelphia

Ana Perez-Villagomez, a freshman math major at Barnard College in New York, N.Y., is paving the way for herself and other first-generation students from low-income backgrounds.

From an early age, Ana was fascinated by the idea of attending college. When she entered South Magnet High School in Omaha, Neb., she didn’t fully understand what college was, but was determined to get there. She would have conversations with her parents about attending college because she wanted to make them aware of her dream. “My parents were so supportive, but they didn’t know what school fully entailed when it came to things like honors and advanced placement classes.”

This meant that Ana had to forge her own path on her journey to college, a challenge made easier when, while a sophomore in high school, she learned about College Possible Omaha through a friend. By then, she recognized that she would face challenges being the first person in her family to attend college, and would need support in navigating the college process. She saw College Possible as a resource that could provide her with support and guidance, and it wasn’t long before this belief was proven to be true.

“College Possible assigns coaches that adapt to each individual,” Ana explained. “They find opportunities that match individual students.” Ana’s high school coach, Beth Kernhagen, was no different. When Ana was a senior, Beth shared an opportunity to join Michelle Obama’s Better Make Room, an initiative targeted at 14- to 19-year-olds interested in attending a four-year university, community college or professional trade school after high school. Ana was selected to be a part of the program in early 2017 and had the opportunity to meet the former first lady, which was a life-changing experience. “Meeting her was empowering. It demonstrated to me the realities of what we believe are unattainable opportunities.”

When it came to applying for college, Ana focused on schools out of state. “I wanted to get out of my comfort zone and looked at schools that would give me that opportunity,” she noted.

She learned about Barnard College through a connection at College Possible. After participating in Barnard Bound, an overnight program that exposes students to the college and the surrounding community, Ana decided to commit to the school. “At first, it was difficult transitioning from Omaha to New York City. It was a little overwhelming because everything was fast paced — even taking the subway was something new.” Of course, having the support of a coach from College Possible Philadelphia — Avere Scurry — helps, too.

Ana also credits the people she met through Barnard Bound to helping her adjust to life in New York City. “The program was geared toward low-income students and students of color,” she explained. “I learned that no matter where in the world you are, there are people like you. The people I met have continuously motivated me.”

In addition to balancing school and a part-time babysitting job, Ana continues to look for opportunities to help other students with backgrounds similar to hers. She holds a leadership position in FLIP (First-Generation Low-Income Partnership), an organization that provides resources to first-generation low-income students, including items such as textbooks and the ShareMeals app. She understands the struggle that students go through purchasing textbooks for school and wanted to lessen the burden for others. Currently, she serves as chair for the organization’s lending library, which allows students to borrow from 1,000 different textbooks available at Columbia University’s library. The program is now at Barnard College.

For the last several years, Ana has set annual goals to help others. In high school, she created a scholarship list, which she shared with other students — a practice she still continues; “I wanted to build off of that [initial list], and keep it going.” This year’s goal: to share all opportunities — from scholarships to jobs — with others.

Always striving to create new opportunities for herself, Ana recognizes the people and organizations that have helped her succeed. In 2017, she made her first donation to College Possible Omaha. “College Possible has provided me so much support; it is indescribable. I want College Possible to keep going for a long time.”

By Ian Reitz





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Portland Celebrates Its First College Graduate

Ha-quyen, college possible Portland

Since College Possible Portland was founded in 2012, we have been eagerly awaiting our first college graduate. Anyone who nurtures and supports the dreams of young people can relate to the hard work and dedication our coaches put into advising students, the persistence of our leadership team in identifying scholarship opportunities and the anticipation across our entire site as we shared our students journeys toward their college degrees.

The celebration we anticipated when that first graduate crossed the stage to accept his or her well-deserved diploma came this past June – a year early – when Ha-Quyen Nguyen earned her degree from Portland State University in just three years. She graduated with majors in business management, leadership and human resources.

Nguyen always knew she wanted to go to college, and when she heard about College Possible during her junior year of high school, she seized the opportunity to let it support her efforts to get there.

The work was not easy. "Imagine every weekend for about a year, you have to wake up at 7 a.m. to get to Reynolds at 8 a.m. and take your ACT practice until 12 p.m.," she remembered, emphasizing the word practice. "Everyone hated it. I hated it."

Yet when everyone saw their real ACT results, she said, they were thankful for the push.

Nguyen went on to earn the Dale Krueger scholarship, along with others that allowed her to attend and graduate from Portland State University debt-free.

Now Nguyen is on the other side. She’s currently an AmeriCorps member serving with College Possible as a senior high school coach, guiding students through the scholarship process, applying for financial aid and earning admittance to college.

“We feel incredibly privileged that our very first college graduate has opted to come back and serve with us,” Julie Mancini, executive director said. “Ha-Quyen could have done anything. For her to take a year to devote to service and College Possible students who are in a similar place as she was five years ago is just incredible. We’re lucky to have her on our team.”

What’s next for Nguyen? “I have two tracks that I will be choosing: the first track is to go to graduate school and get my masters in international business to become a project manager. My second track is to go to graduate school and get my masters in counseling to pursue a job within organizations like TRIO Student Support Services or as a college advisor.

“I truly do not know…but College Possible, and being a coach, will lead me to where I need to go."   




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Learning to Lead

Ikram, college possible Minnesota

As a Policy Associate for Saint Paul Mayor Melvin Carter’s office, Ikram Koliso has an impressive resume of professional accomplishments, but she remembers a time when she found it difficult to articulate her skills on paper.

During her senior year of high school, Ikram worked relentlessly to translate her experience into a one-page document that would impress college admissions committees. Earning an education was a goal she had longed to achieve since her childhood in Ethiopia and Kenya, but she recalls her dream often felt out of reach, even after moving to the United States. No one in Ikram’s family had attended college or had knowledge of the prerequisites, application requirements or financial aid systems to help her with the process. As a first-generation college applicant, she was thankful she wasn’t fully alone on her college journey — her College Possible coach, Rachel, was there to support and challenge her along the way. Ikram submitted draft after draft of her application materials to her coach, but Rachel would send them back each time, insisting she could do more.

“At the time, I did not get the point, and I did not want to keep editing and editing,” Ikram said. “However, I was so thankful that she pushed me. She was able to see more potential in me than I saw in myself.”

With the encouragement of her College Possible coach, Ikram began to take ownership of her talents and build the confidence in her abilities that had been missing for much of her high school career.

“I did well academically, but did not have much involvement in extracurricular activities within the high school. At the time, I just wasn’t aware of what was available, and I did not think I would be capable of taking on a leadership role,” Ikram said. “That’s something that I wanted to change in college.”

Ikram took her goal seriously. In her time as a student at St. Catherine University, she helped launch the campus Emerging Scholars program and served in a variety of on-campus leadership roles, such as a peer advisor in the Academic Advising Office, a peer mentor in the Multicultural and International Programs and Services Office, a teaching assistant for the Public Health Department, secretary of the First Generation Scholars League and president of the Muslim Student Association.

Ikram’s campus involvement earned her the Thomas Moore Leadership Award as just a sophomore, and by senior year she was granted the Mary E. McCahill Award — an accolade long recognized as St. Kate’s most prestigious achievement.

Throughout her time at St. Kate’s, Ikram did not strive for excellence in hopes of recognition or a stronger resume, but out of a commitment to her family, peers and network who supported her along the way.

Ikram’s hard work was particularly driven by her parents’ sacrifice. “I knew that the reason my family emigrated to the United States was for me to have an opportunity for education,” she said. Ikram had been unable to attend school in Ethiopia or Kenya, so it was not until she arrived in Saint Paul in fourth grade that she was able to begin her studies. With this opportunity came the responsibility to reach even further. “To attend college was to live out the dreams of my parents and their predecessors,” she said.

Ikram said she was thankful for the guidance and preparation she received along the way. “College Possible was my right hand in not only encouraging me, but also providing me the tangible assistance needed for success.”

During her commencement speech as valedictorian of St. Kate’s 2017 graduating class, Ikram described the importance of paying forward this support.

“Whether you will be a nurse, teacher, social worker, respiratory therapist, artist, historian, biologist or mother, it is your responsibility to help create a society where all people have both tangible and intangible resources,” she said.

Ikram puts these beliefs into practice every day as part of Mayor Carter’s policy team, where she is helping lead the implementation of the city’s college savings account initiative. This plan aims to increase educational opportunity for St. Paul youth by providing a college savings account for every child born in the city. As she shared in her commencement speech, Ikram hopes her policy work will help address the root causes of systemic inequalities, such as those that exist in higher education.

“We know that it is not an accident that systems and institutions were created to be exclusive — they are people-made, and we are responsible for dismantling these systems so that all our communities can succeed and prosper,” she said.

Like her College Possible coach so many years before, Ikram will keep pushing her peers and community members for more. “Let us remember,” she said, “we all do better, when people of color and indigenous people do better.”





All-Star Inspiration

Gizela, college possible omaha

At just 18 years old, Gizela has done it all. While being the only girl wrestler on the Benson Bunnies wrestling team, a volleyball player, track and field athlete, dance team member, St. Benedict’s youth group leader and student council president, she still makes time to attend College Possible’s late session after sports practice at Omaha Benson High Magnet School.

Gizela first learned about College Possible while talking to her guidance counselor her sophomore year of high school. “I always knew I wanted to attend college, so when I heard about College Possible, there was no question about if I’d join or not,” says Gizela, and her mom couldn’t agree more. “My mom advocates for anything that involves college. She’s very supportive of the College Possible program and wanted me to take advantage of what it had to offer.”

Gizela’s family moved to America from Tanzania when she was just seven years old. The second oldest in a household of eight, her favorite thing to do when she gets free time is to hang out with her siblings. “My siblings give me life,” says Gizela. “They are why I do what I do; they are my everything.” Not only does Gizela take pride in being a role model for her younger siblings, she also hopes to inspire other women both mentally and physically, which is what led her to join the all-boys wrestling team when she was in seventh grade. “First I was scared how people were going to view it, but to me it held a stronger purpose,” she says.

As a senior, Gizela has already applied to several colleges, some of which include Howard University, Fisk University, University of Nebraska – Lincoln and University of Nebraska at Omaha, with hopes of obtaining a psychology degree. Her ultimate goal in life is to explore the world and earn her doctorate in psychology, which will allow her to serve mental health needs in Africa. “I want the opportunity to use my voice to benefit others,” says Gizela.

During the spring of her sophomore year, Gizela had the opportunity to share her journey with influential community members during College Possible’s annual Friendraiser event. “I am so thankful for College Possible. It has opened a lot of doors for me, and if it wasn’t for them, I probably wouldn’t be as successful as I am in school,” says Gizela. “College Possible really encouraged me to get involved in my community and I will always be grateful for that.”

Gizela is excited for her future and to start her collegiate journey. Her nerves are few because she knows that her College Possible coach will be there for her along the way, supporting and directing her to anything she might need to achieve her goals.


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“College Possible helped me stay on top of things and gave me an outlet”

JOSH, college possible MILWAUKEE

After his first year at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Josh had earned a 3.8 GPA and was thinking college would be easy. But then came sophomore year.  He lived off campus, worked more hours at a second job and had a demanding class load. He failed some classes and was placed on academic probation. After finishing out the school year, Josh decided to leave school and got one job working at a restaurant and another as an apprentice in the trades.

“I got a taste of what life would be like if I didn’t go back to school,” said Josh. “It felt like a lot of my options were limited without a college degree.”

After a few months of work, Josh gave college another try but his path toward graduation was not easy. He had to retake a semester’s worth of classes, balance school work with a second job and deal with the pressure of knowing he couldn’t fail again.

College Possible was there for the long haul.

“College Possible helped me stay on top of things and gave me an outlet,” Josh said.

Only 12% of students from low-income backgrounds who enroll ever complete college.

But for more than 10 years, College Possible Milwaukee has supported students like Josh on their journey to and through college, helping them navigate any obstacle in their path to a college degree. This is one reason why our students are four times more likely to earn their degrees than their low-income peers.

After a couple of tough years and a demanding academic program, Josh is in his senior year, planning to graduate in spring 2019 with a computer engineering degree. Now Josh is a mentor to other engineering students who could be struggling with some of the same challenges he overcame.

“I look forward to it,” Josh said of helping other students like himself. “There are a lot of times where you find yourself giving advice because you’ve dealt with something and have good advice to give.”



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Campus Connections

Luther College, College Possible Partner

Many College Possible high school students have never had that experience. As they begin to prepare their college applications and understand, maybe for the first time, that college is in their future, these students have no way of knowing if the college they’ve applied to will be a good fit. It’s hard to imagine yourself on a college campus, much less earning your degree, if you’ve never seen a college first-hand.

That’s why an important part of the College Possible program is arranging campus tours for students. Working closely with college partners in our Connects program, College Possible team members visit campuses with students to expose them to the sights, sounds and even feelings of a variety of colleges.

Earlier this month, 68 College Possible high school seniors from all six sites across the country visited Luther College in Iowa, a valued long-term partner and supporter. The trip – free of charge to students – was funded in large part by Luther College, while our generous donors covered the remaining expenses. This was the first year Luther College offered this to all of our students, and they custom-designed the visit especially for College Possible.

Students arrived after a long day of travel and spent one night and one full day on campus. Each student was paired up with a current Luther College student who became their 1-on-1 host. They showed them around campus, talked about their experiences at school and gave them the behind-the-scenes experience. The group also participated in campus tours, admission sessions and more.

“The opportunity to visit any campus, much less an out-of-state school, can be invaluable for students. There’s something that’s indescribable when you first set foot on a campus that helps to evaluate, sometimes on a gut level, whether a school will be a good fit,” said Margarita Gutierrez Lemus, College Possible Portland program manager.

This fly-in visit was made possible by the partnership between Luther College and College Possible. We’re working with more than 300 colleges and universities to help strengthen their retention and success rates for first-generation students