Program gives some City Colleges students a leg up

  • By Peter Sachs
  • Staff Writer
  • May 04, 2009 @ 1:00 PM

When Shawn Mayberry’s grades were slipping in his economics class at Truman College last fall, it was a tutor who had graduated from the University of Chicago who helped him turn his grade from a C- to an A.

The tutor came to him courtesy of the Illinois Education Foundation. The nonprofit organization gives scholarships to City Colleges students and then provides them with mentors, free tutoring and academic advising to help them succeed at community college and get jobs.

“That’s one of their biggest assets, is that they help you get further and you’re able to do a little bit more with them on your side,” Mayberry says.

Now Mayberry, who commutes to class from the near west suburbs, is pondering where to go to school for his bachelor’s degree. He’s already gotten in to Loyola Universiy and Concordia University, and he’s applying to Northwestern and Columbia universities.

Michael Golden, executive director of the Illinois Education Foundation, says the scholarships and academic support can remove obstacles to success for students like Mayberry.

“There are a heck of a lot of low-income, academically challenged students who really want to work hard, achieve their associate’s degrees and bachelor’s degrees, but these hurdles get in the way.”

The group works closely with the City Colleges – its offices are in the district’s main building in the Loop – raising money from private donors, corporations and federal and state grants. In the last two years, Golden says, IEF has raised $2.2 million.

This past fall, IEF provided scholarships for 103 City Colleges students, more than double the 45 students who received help the year before.

Students have to apply for federal financial aid first, with IEF covering the difference and providing students with money for living expenses. Academic support is also a big part of the mission.

Golden says it’s hard to come up with metrics to gauge how well the program is helping students. Right now, 78 percent of the students IEF helps re-enroll from semester to semester, he says. Statewide, according to data from the Illinois Community College Board, just 43 percent of community college students transfer or complete their degrees.

While those two figures aren’t directly comparable, Golden argues they suggest IEF is making a big difference for the students it serves. The next big challenge is expanding the program to help more students, which will require more fundraising.

“We need to continue to develop relationships with large institutional donors,” Golden says. Scaling up the academic advising side will be a challenge as well.

Mayberry meets monthly with a mentor to talk about everything from class work and study skills to career goals. As long as he keeps his grades up, he can get access to a tutor whenever he needs it. And IEF helped set him up with an internship in media relations and event planning at the Chicago 2016 Olympic Committee.

Having those resources available has been invaluable, Mayberry says, especially compared to his friends who aren’t in the program.

“I think it’s hard because most community college students, they have a lot going on outside of school and they really don’t have the time to focus on finding out what things are available for them,” Mayberry says.

Daily News Staff Writer Peter Sachs covers higher education. He can be reached at 773.362.5002, ext. 18, or peter [at] chitowndailynews [dot] org.