Abby Friedman was thrilled when she got a text this week from one of the students she counsels at the college resource center at Coliseum College Preparatory Academy in Oakland — the teen had been accepted at Wesleyan University.
Friedman texted back to ask whether the school said anything about financial aid. The girl said she wasn’t sure, that it was confusing, and she forwarded a photo of the acceptance letter.
It’s a scenario Friedman said she sees frequently as she helps often-overwhelmed students — frequently the first in their families to go to college — navigate the application, financial aid and enrollment process.
Friedman is the director of her school’s Future Center. There are 10 such centers at middle and high schools in Oakland, part of the city’s Oakland Promise initiative, which was started two years ago by city and school officials. The centers try to promote a college-going culture among students — and with examples like Friedman’s and some statistics now in hand, they are showing early success.
At the four high schools with Future Centers, 88 percent of students applied to college, compared with 79 percent at schools without one, according to an independent study by University of Chicago researchers.
The results were even more stark for African American and Latino students.
According to the study, 66 percent of black students at Future Center schools, for example, enrolled in a two- to four-year college, compared with 47 percent at other high schools.
Mayor Libby Schaaf and school Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell released the results of the study Thursday evening at a news conference outlining progress for the first two years of Oakland Promise.
“It’s working,” Schaaf said Thursday morning. “My lifetime dream is coming true.”
The whole point is to break down the barriers to college for students, “not just get kids excited about their lives after K-12 is over, but to literally hold their hands down the path to get them into and through that college experience,” Schaaf said.
Oakland Promise is a “cradle to career” plan that seeks by 2025 to ensure that 30 percent of Oakland’s ninth-graders ultimately complete college — a daunting task given that, as of 2016, just 10 percent were earning a degree.
Currently, the initiative costs about $9 million per year, but organizers hope that will expand in the coming years to include more schools and more children. Funding comes from the city, the school district and philanthropic donations.
The goal is to provide $500 in a college savings account for every Oakland baby born into poverty, as well as a $100 college scholarship for each kindergartner and up to $16,000 for all eligible seniors to help cover college costs. The initiative also teams up students with individual mentors to support them through a postsecondary education.
The Future Centers bridge the gap, but they don’t just offer university brochures and federal financial aid forms. Their counselors provide the kind of support students need to believe they can become college graduates, school officials said.
“Some of the most dramatic change we’ve seen because of the Oakland Promise has come from the Future Centers,” Johnson-Trammell said. “Planning for college and career can be overwhelming for our young people, but the Future Centers make it easier to manage.”
While many schools have college and career offices, the Future Centers don’t wait for students to walk in — they pull them in, said David Silver, director of education for Schaaf.
“We’re not just about having a place, opening the door and having the really motivated kids come in,” he said.
Jimmy Huynh, 18, remembers the first time he walked into the Oakland High Future Center.
“I didn’t know how to apply to college,” he said. “I didn’t know what colleges to apply to.”
He started going in three times a week. He’s now a freshman at UC Berkeley.
“Just being there,” he said, “it was such a caring environment.”
This article was published March 15, 2018 for the SF Chronicle here.