For many years, the Yawkey Foundations offered tuition assistance to low-income students through its scholarship program. Although the support was helpful, students couldn’t afford to explore all the opportunities their colleges offered, and many continued to struggle with academic, personal, and financial issues. Jim Healey, President of the Yawkey Foundations, felt the organization could do a better job of supporting low-income college students, but the Foundation had neither the resources nor the staff to offer scholars the guidance they needed. “We felt it was time to bring a company in that could accomplish those things for us, could meet with the students and could advise them,” says Healey. “We interviewed the team at The Philanthropic Initiative and just loved their vision for the program.”
Our vision was inspired by what Jim Healey and his team at the Yawkey Foundations had already accomplished. Drawing from that history, and our research and experience creating and managing college success programs, we revamped the Yawkey Scholars Program to include several new components:
- Advisor mentoring. Each Yawkey Scholar is matched with an advisor. Students are encouraged to check in with their advisor quarterly to discuss how things are going for them at college. Advisors are there to support Scholars and help them to identify and access resources if they have academic, financial, social or other problems.
- Opportunities Fund. Yawkey Scholars now have access to the same types of opportunities as their more affluent peers through the Yawkey Opportunities Fund. The Fund provides students, who are meeting the program's requirements, with flexible financial support to allow them to participate in enriching activities that help them achieve their full potential in college. Opportunities Fund grants – up to $2,500 per year per student – have been provided for career development, summer or winter courses, books and supplies, study abroad, travel and post-graduate preparation.
- Peer and Professional Networking. Through workshops, career panels, community service, newsletters and gatherings, Yawkey Scholars build connections with peers and professionals that offer a support system and help them to meet their academic and career objectives.
The Yawkey Scholars are thriving. The Program enrolls around 25-30 students each fall and all are on track to graduate. This is an especially inspiring achievement considering that over 60% of Yawkey Scholars are first-generation college students. Graduation rates for those whose parents never went to college – nearly 50% of today’s college students – are notably lower than the rates for students who represent the second, third or fourth generation in their family to attend college.
The Scholars say the new components of the program provide a significant advantage to helping them achieve their personal and academic goals. One Scholar from Boston University reports, “As a freshman in college, I struggled a lot with adapting to the classes and the new way of life. In my first semester, I found myself stressing out over work, school, and social life. However, my advisor provided me with excellent advice and gave me someone to talk to when I needed it most.”
Though many of these high-performing students probably would have entered college without the scholarship, they would have graduated with considerable debt. The majority of 2012 graduates from private four-year colleges had student loans averaging $29,000. In contrast, Yawkey Scholars will graduate with minimal debt, and few will accrue more than $10,000 in loans.
A Yawkey Scholar at Boston University explains, “The Program has meant the difference between barely getting by and fully enjoying every opportunity my school offers.”