A promising young member of Monmouth College’s fall 2010 entering class is the subject of an article in the current edition of The Economist, Britain’s venerable weekly news and international affairs magazine.
Osvaldo Hernandez, a senior at the largely Hispanic John Hancock High School on Chicago’s southwest side, is a first-generation American and in line to become the first college graduate from his family. The Economist article (http://bit.ly/mc-hernandez) contends that in the United States a college education is critical for achieving upward mobility, and points out that new reforms are helping disadvantaged inner-city students achieve their potential by helping them enroll in quality four-year colleges.
A particular problem, according to the article, is that many low-income, first-generation college students are not familiar with the college application and financial aid process, and are not aware of the many options available to them, particularly regarding private, four-year colleges. Consequently, some of the brightest of these students enroll in vocational programs or in schools that do not challenge them to their full potential.
Hernandez learned about Monmouth College indirectly as a result of the Illinois Teen Institute, a summer anti-drug and leadership program held annually on the Monmouth campus. Participating high schools are given opportunities to participate in admission bus trips to Monmouth, and that’s how Monmouth College regional director of admission Peter Pitts first began visiting Hancock High School.
“Hancock is a really nice small school, and when you walk in the door, you just feel at home,” Pitts said. “We have never had a student from Hancock before, but so far this year, 12 have applied and 10 of those students have been accepted.”
Pitts works regularly with Hector Gonzalez, who holds the title of college and career coach at Hancock. “Osvaldo is a great student, but he was pretty unsure of where he wanted to go,” explained Gonzalez. “He was interested in pre-dentistry, and since Monmouth has a pre-dentistry program, we introduced him to Peter.”
Gonzalez said that Hernandez made several trips to Monmouth, including one with his mother. “The family has hard financial times, but also a lot of heart and a lot of dedication,” he said. “Sending their son to college will be a sacrifice for the entire family, but at the same time, they are very excited about the prospect.”
Pitts and Gonzalez see a promising new trend in which inner-city students like Hernandez are seeking educations outside their traditional environs. Both are particularly enthusiastic about a new “pipeline” project, developed by the Network for College Success and the University of Chicago. Administered by the College Counselors’ Collaborative (CCC), the program is an effort to increase the number of highly qualified Chicago Public Schools students who enroll and graduate from selective colleges and universities. The Associated Colleges of the Midwest (ACM), of which Monmouth is a member, is a partner in the project, which seeks to connect Chicago high school counselors and students with small to mid-sized colleges throughout the Midwest.
“In the past year, we have doubled the number of our students who apply to four-year colleges,” Gonzalez said.
Pitts participated April 14 in a major college fair held at Westinghouse College Prep in Chicago, with an estimated 400 students from several Chicago public schools. Sponsored by the CCC and ACM, the fair attracted some of the inner-city’s most talented prospective college students. “They were intelligent, inquisitive and highly motivated kids,” Pitts said. “These are virtually all first-generation students. They seem to like the idea of getting out of Chicago and attending a small private college like Monmouth.”
The students, Pitts explained, view a small town like Monmouth as a safe haven where they can focus on their studies and meet new friends from other states and countries. “Money is the big issue with these kids,” he said, “but as long as state, federal and Monmouth funding stay at a level that can help them afford it, I think we can have a pipeline of really awesome kids from the city.”