Schuler Scholar Program provides financial boost for those in need

June 21, 2013

By Denys Bucksten, Special to the Tribune

4:42 PM CDT, June 17, 2013

The closest many disadvantaged young students may come to an Ivy League experience is standing next to someone wearing a Harvard T-shirt in the popcorn line at the Cineplex.

Since 2001, Schuler Scholar Program in Lake Forest has been providing many such students the T-shirt — and the student ID to go with it. The program, with an annual budget of more than $5 million from a private family foundation, has seen 122 students graduate from small, top-tier, mostly liberal arts colleges; has 258 students in college and has 403 in high school, on a path toward college entrance.

Schuler is identifying students in the eighth grade, giving them a game plan toward college acceptance, ACT program tutoring, getting them into AP coursework and providing tens of thousands of dollars in tuition assistance. Schuler partners with Collins Academy in Chicago; Cristo Rey St. Martin College Prep in Waukegan; and Highland Park; Maine East; North Chicago, Round Lake, Warren Township and Waukegan high schools.

The partner schools, said Candace Browdy, Schuler executive director, "have a significant population of first generation college students who, without additional resources, might not be able to get a college degree."

Danny Santoyo, 19, a Highland Park High School 2012 grad, will enter his sophomore year this fall at University of Rochester. Best buddy Ricky Rodriguez, who like Santoyo, is Mexican and a resident of Highwood, will begin his second year at Macalaster College in St. Paul, Minn. Both are Schuler scholars who learned of their college acceptance on the same day in the late spring of 2012.

"When Ricky and I were freshmen in high school and had both applied to be Schuler Scholars, we thought how cool it would be if we both got a full ride. Being admitted to college and knowing we wouldn't have to worry about anything but studying hard was one of the happiest days of our lives," said Santoyo.

Browdy said the identification and selection of good candidates has been refined over the years. Although the primary criteria is finding bright, disadvantaged students whose families have not yet sent a member to college, raw talent alone does not move a candidate forward.

In the past, said Browdy, "We had some years in which we took 25 to 30 kids, but there was a significant attrition rate until the time they graduated from college. So now we have a different model; we take a stronger class and have much less attrition."

And by "stronger", Browdy said, students and their families have to really want it. They should possess those intangible traits of "grit" and perseverance. Schuler has expanded academic and raw test score requirements to include the marginal performers who will stick it out.

"We don't want to rule out the kids who show they are risky because those kids could really push through and be successful in the program," said Browdy.

Conversely, selection has tightened on qualified, talented kids with good ACT scores and raw talent, but who show a tendency not to persevere. That trait may become evident when the student fails to attend meetings, or the students' parents don't follow through on program initiatives, she said.

"If these obstacles present early on," she said, "most likely they can't be overcome when the student comes into the program."

Schuler also works hard to not overlook first-generation Caucasian candidates, Browdy said..

Schuler works independently but in cooperation with College Bound Opportunities, a Riverwoods-based program, that identifies students their junior year in high school. CBO coaches, counsels and tutors prospects on the ACTs and loan applications and provides an annual stipend while in school. Thirty CBO students, mostly from District 113 and District 115, will enter college this fall.

Veronica Torruco, 18, a 2013 Highland Park High School grad and Schuler Scholar, is bound for Smith College. Her older brother, Enrique, 20, is a junior at Marquette University, though the CBO program. Both are the first in their family to attend college.

When her mother learned of her early acceptance to Smith, "it was a pretty big deal for her," said Torruco. "She just had this light in her eyes."

Julie Levine, Schuler director at Highland Park High School, said parents of first-generation students often feel that a college education, at schools costing $50,000 and $60,000 a year, is completely out of reach.

"Most of these parents think their children won't go to college, or if they do it will be locally, that they'll work their way through a two-year college. But they have no idea how much money (for tuition) is out there. At Highland Park they've seen the T-shirts but never thought they could afford it."


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