One Voice: College Access Pioneers
September 25, 2013
By: Susan Silbert, PhD
Towards the end of the summer one of our students was ready to go to Stanford until his glasses were stolen. This isn’t a hurdle most incoming Cardinals have to face, but this ‘One Voice’ student wasn’t an ordinary Cardinal. One Voice students are exceptional minds who deserve the best education money can buy, but without any of the money. One of our employees rushed him over to Costco, bought him a new pair of glasses, and the problem was solved. He could confidently go to Stanford, knowing not only he could see but that One Voice was there. That’s what we do at One Voice. We provide low-income students with the emotional and financial support, and college preparation they need from the 11th grade on, until they stand on their own two feet and change the world.
The students who participate in the One Voice Robert W. Sanderson Scholars Program have a 95% college graduation rate (30%go on to graduate school), compared to the national average of 11% for this demographic. We select students with the greatest need who really want to go to college and who are willing to work for it. The minimum GPA is a 3.2 and we do require that the students take the classes that will make them the most competitive. Mostly, we are looking for that look in their eye that just says ‘I want this.’
Twenty years ago, when our first three students got into the schools of their dreams, they were miserable. You can’t use scholarship money to grab pizza with your friends. You can’t use it for clothes. We cared about these students, and we were a family. A good family doesn’t drop you when you go to college. They check up on you, talk to you when classes seem hard or friends seem impossible to make. I remember one of our staff talking to a lonely student over the phone. She said, “Go out this week, make a friend, join a club and you have to tell me all about it in a week.” That approach started a conversation that would give birth to the concept of “college-access” organizations. A student’s needs don’t stop at tuition, and we restructured our strategy because of that. Like family we are with our scholars all the way through college and graduate school and beyond. On-average, our students come from four person households earning $15,000 to $24,000 a year, and 95% of them are the first in their families to go to college. So I really can’t emphasize how much their lives improve with each dollar. The money we’ve received from Los Angeles Scholars Investment Fund (LASIF), the partnership between CCF and College Access Foundation of California (CAFC), goes to anything critical, whether it’s transportation, loan gaps, books or health insurance. We’ve even provided blankets and coats to students on the east coast.
All of our students get into four year colleges. Giving them SAT Prep, counseling and financial aid guidance gives them the necessary tools. But our students have something different about them. They want something better, and they work tirelessly to rise above their circumstances. Admission representatives from 40 of the nation’s best colleges came to interview our students. It has taken nearly 20 years, but colleges are now calling us. Any university would be lucky and even grateful to have these students at their school; the trick is finding them. Our relationship with these universities is great, but that doesn’t help the kids who aren’t in One Voice. More needs to be done.
Susan Silbert, PhD is the Executive Director of One Voice.
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