Kent McDill, June 27, 2014

A celebrated American tradition - being the first in your family to attend college - is the basis of a charitable effort of stunning scope in the Chicagoland area.

Candace Browdy, an Indiana University alum, is Executive Director of the Schuler Scholar Program (SSP), which fully funds four years of high school programs and a college scholarship for hundreds of students from under-resourced communities every year, in order to prepare them to become the first member of their family to attend college.

Launched in 2001 by Jack Schuler and his daughter, Tanya Schuler Sharman, the Schuler Scholar Program partners with 10 high schools in the Chicagoland area to find deserving students with high academic profiles who could benefit from extra support. The program then provides further assistance for the students when they are in college as well as a small four-year scholarship.

Originally, students were identified and accepted into the program during their freshman year in college. Today, the students are identified in eighth grade, go through a rigorous application process, and together with their parents meet with Schuler staffers to discuss their academic goals. Using all of that information, as well as recommendations from teachers, the Schuler Scholar Program selects up to 25 students from each of the 10 high schools to begin their immersion into the program.

schuler scholar programIn each school, the SSP maintains an office and between three and seven staff members, some of whom are AmeriCorps members providing two years of service to the SSP.  In many cases students who are not in the SSP  also receive support from the Schuler staff.  ?We like for there to be opportunities for all students in the schools to benefit from the resources that we have,?? Browdy said.

?During the school day,  Scholars come to the Schuler offices to  meet with our staff, participate in our reading program,  or access additional academic  support,?? Browdy said. ?Scholars are in and out of our resource rooms  before and after school, on weekends and even on school vacation days.?

The Scholars are required to spend at least 90 minutes a week after school in Schuler programs that focus on academic enrichment, personal development or college readiness.  Additionally, Schuler provides Scholars with access to social, cultural and civic experiences they may otherwise be unable to access.

When the Schuler Scholars approach the time to make college decisions, the program helps them meet with colleges they feel would be a good academic, financial, and social fit. Typically the schools are small, private, liberal arts colleges.

?These kids are coming from communities where they have not been heavily resourced and  don?t have families with college experience,?? Browdy said. ?We prefer for them to be in schools that can provide additional support, offer  smaller class sizes, and will guarantee financial support for four years.?

?The Scholars need significant funding, and private colleges with larger endowments  can provide the financial aid they need,?? Browdy said.

The success rate of the program is marked by the number of students who successfully complete the high school program and graduate from college. ?Ninety percent of the students who start college as a Schuler Scholar graduate from college in five years,?? Browdy said. ?Most complete college in four years.?

The Schuler Scholar Program spends about $11,000 per year per student while they are in high school, then provides a $1,000 scholarship annually to the students as they go into college. According to Browdy, the Schuler high school Class of 2014 received an average of $47,000 a year in non-loan financial aid provided by the colleges.

Evy Fraga grew up in Waukegan and  joined the Schuler Scholar Program as a high school freshman at Waukegan High School in 2005. Today she is a graduate of Swarthmore College and is serving  as Schuler Scholar  Coach in the SSP?s AmeriCorps program.

?My father, who did not complete high school, was very vocal about his struggles in the work force and how life would have been very different had he had the opportunity to attend school,?? Fraga said. ?So from a very young age I was told that education was the key to success and that, unlike my parents, I would go to college.

?Since my high school did not have a college-going culture, Schuler created a safe space where being smart was cool,?? she said. ?The Schuler Summer College Program, where students spend anywhere from 1-3 weeks at a college campus taking a class, gives students the opportunity to see themselves at college and it gives them a taste of what they are working for.

?Schuler helped me navigate the college process in a way that helped me get the best financial aid possible and admittance to one of the most selective institutions in the country,?? she said.