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It's Not Easy Being the Boss : Outreach All the Way to East Coast : Education: Occidental College joins a program in Rhode Island that promises college scholarships to at-risk third-graders.

September 09, 1993|DIANA S. KIM | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

EAGLE ROCK — Occidental College has joined 31 colleges and universities nationwide to form a $24-million scholarship collaborative to benefit at-risk children in Rhode Island.

The Eagle Rock private college is one of two in California to join the program; the other is Pomona College.

Occidental has entered into the commitment this semester, but, like other schools in the program, it won't pay out the scholarships until 2001, when the first of the children in the program are at an age to enter college.

Each institution participating in the ambitious "Children's Crusade Scholarship Collaborative," is committed to earmark five scholarships a year for 10 years for students in the Rhode Island program who are admitted to those colleges.

The amounts of the scholarships are tied to the in-state tuition at the University of Rhode Island, which is now $3,900.

Students also might qualify for additional aid.

Occidental College President John Brooks Slaughter said, "We believe it is one of the things we can and should do to address the question of increased access to students. It is important to invest in all young people who want to be educated--anyone who has the desire."

Though the fund benefits only the children of Rhode Island, Slaughter said that Occidental College hopes the program will be replicated throughout the country. California has no equivalent program.

"(The program) benefits the students in America," Slaughter said. "We're a national college."

About two-thirds of Occidental's 1,650 students receive financial aid at the college, which costs about $21,000 a year, including living expenses. About half of the students enrolled are from California.

The Rhode Island program, Slaughter said, is the most formal and well-organized outreach program that he knows of. Faced with a 50% dropout rate among its at-risk children, Rhode Island in 1991 founded a "Children's Crusade for Higher Education." It is run by a private nonprofit foundation.

All third-graders in Rhode Island are eligible to sign up by making a pledge to work hard in school; steer clear of alcohol and drugs; walk on the right side of the law, and avoid early parenthood.

In return, the crusade guarantees scholarships for college, technical school, or union apprenticeships to low-income students who are admitted to an approved institution of higher education.

The crusade also provides mentoring and tutoring to the children who sign up, with priority given to minority and at-risk students.

Its first children were recruited in 1991, and there are now more than 6,000 enrolled, 26% of all third- and fourth-graders in the state.

"A t third grade," said Bob Oberg, the program's assistant director for development and public relations, "the children's dreams are still intact. They are ambitious; they are curious, and they feel important.

"By the fourth and fifth grade, peer pressure starts to kick in, and it might be too late. . . . We want to tell them that they are good enough when they have ears to hear them."

In the long run, Oberg said, the 20-year program, which hopes to double its supporting schools to 60, provides a recruiting tool for the colleges, an effort that usually costs them millions.

The last of the children in the program will enter college in 2011, and if the program is deemed workable, it might continue, Oberg said.

"(The colleges) are investing in our nation," he said. "We are not getting the at-risk children through the pipeline (right now). There needed to be a collaboration."

California is ripe for such a wide-scale program, but the state "doesn't have the resources or the political will to do it," said Diana Fuentes-Michel, coordinator of state governmental relations for the state Post-Secondary Education Commission.

Rhode Island's program will succeed, she said, because it offers tangible rewards that children can grasp. "Good for them, (Occidental) that they took advantage of the system," she said.

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