A stairway to higher education

  • Article by: ALEX ROBINSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 7, 2009 - 5:18 PM

More low-income teens will be headed to college as program moves into the north metro.

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Admission Possible has been a success at Robbinsdale Cooper High School.

Photo: David Joles, Star Tribune

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A program that preps low-income high school students for college is now expanding from the Twin Cities into the northern burbs.

Admission Possible started in 2001 at Southwest High School in Minneapolis and Arlington High School in St. Paul, but in the past few years the program has added schools in the Robbinsdale district, and last week the program started recruiting for the first time at Coon Rapids High School. Next year, the program plans to tutor up to 1,400 students from schools around the metro.

Coon Rapids High Principal Jeff McGonigal was formerly the principal at Robbinsdale Cooper High School when the program was introduced there. McGonigal wanted to bring the program to Coon Rapids because he said some kids weren't reaching their college potential and the school's population matched Admission Possible criteria.

The nonprofit program aims to help students who show college potential, have a GPA of at least 2.0 and are from low-income families -- the average family income is $25,000 for students in the program. About 95 percent of the students in the program are students of color, and most have no college graduates in their family, said Natalie Rule, director of Admission Possible external relations.

The students are admitted into the program their sophomore year and undergo two years of guidance, which includes touring colleges, filing for financial aid, and preparing for the ACT, Rule said. The program helps 99 percent of its students gain admission to college.

Admission Possible is funded mostly by individual and corporate donations, with assistance from the federally funded service agency AmeriCorps.

At Coon Rapids High, Admission Possible is planning to admit 30 to 40 students who will start next fall.

Out of the 667 sophomores at the school, at least 70 will be eligible for the program, McGonigal said. The school overall has a notable population of low-income students, with 30 percent of students receiving free or reduced-price lunches, McGonigal said.

He hopes the program will guide some of his low-income students toward college, students who previously didn't view it as an option.

"We're a big school and we have a lot of good students," he said. "But some of them just don't have a picture of themselves being college-bound."

Lyssa Miller, a guidance counselor at Cooper, said the guidance office does help students prepare for college, but Admission Possible is able to take on the kids who need extra help, because it has lower student-to-staff ratios.

"Every day you see students with so much ability, but they don't have the motivation or desire," Miller said. "Some of those students need the extra help."

But for Cooper senior and Admission Possible student Ariel Nash, the problem was never motivation.

"I always wanted to go to college," Nash said. "I just didn't know how to make these colleges want to take me."

Nash, who now plans to attend either Minnesota State University, Moorhead, or the University of Winnipeg, said regardless of where you go to high school, it's tough getting into college on your own.

"Any student who doesn't have leadership is going to have a hard time," Nash said.

Alex Robinson is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.

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