Opening College Admissions
For high-performing, low-income students attending D.C. public high schools, a new nonprofit led by Dele Butler, JD '09, aims to unlock barriers to admission to high-caliber universities.
College Advocate does what its name says: serves as an advocate for students as they prepare for, apply for, and attend college.
"I see College Advocate as bridging the gap between what the urban public schools and the good private schools do to help their students get access to good colleges," says Ms. Butler, a former teacher, lawyer, and the founder and program director for College Advocate.
"It serves students who have the drive and raw intelligence to excel at prestigious colleges, but don't have access to the tools needed to get into those colleges." She added that College Advocate, a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization, is modeled after a program called College Match, which was founded in 2002 to serve students in the Los Angeles area.
The impetus for Ms. Butler's launch of College Advocate came during fall 2009 while she was attending GW Law School and earned a spot in the esteemed White House Internship Program. She ended up interning in the education policy office, working on reform of the federal higher education financial aid policy that directs funding to low-income students.
"I saw a lot of resources allocated to bring school children up to proper reading and math levels, but insufficient resources to assist those low-income students at urban schools who were reaching well above those levels," Ms. Butler says. "These students were working hard and were amazing, but weren't getting much help to flourish beyond secondary school and into college. It was an epiphany for me, because it revealed a huge need nationally for something to help these students achieve their full potential."
During the internship, Butler established many connections in the education community. One of them was Harley M. Frankel, founder of College Match in California, who is now serving on College Advocate's board of advisers.
College Advocate was incorporated, received non-profit status, and established relationships with several D.C. schools by March 2010. It was also certified as an after-school service provider, giving it access to the school grounds and facilities. It defined the types of students it sought and asked the schools for nominees. This fall, the first 22 students were chosen.
"College Advocate provides an intensive preparation curriculum for the SAT, and it performs Myers-Briggs testing to help with career choices. We also expose students to professionals in different career areas, to give them real-world knowledge of those careers."
"We take our students on tours of the top-tier colleges in various sections of the country. We help them through the college application process, including choosing schools; filling out applications; helping them write essays; applying for financial aid, scholarships and summer enrichment courses; and working on their behalf with the admissions office," Ms. Butler says.
Once the students begin freshman year, College Advocate will work with professors and student mentors to assure that the students have what they need to succeed in school.
The fledgling organization has benefited greatly from pro bono help and many volunteers. It is now building its full-time staff and seeking at least three more people to serve on its board of directors. Further information is available at www.thecollegeadvocate.org.
College Advocate has received financial donations from more than 100 individuals and two grants from the Bancroft Foundation and from the David A. Steinberg Foundation. Additionally, the Hogan Lovells law firm is covering Ms. Butler's salary; her employment at the firm is on deferment while she gets College Advocate off the ground.
Ms. Butler knows College Advocate's value is strong, based on the experience of its proven California model, College Match. "It has a 2,000 percent return on investment. Every dollar spent on our students results in a $200 return in investment, in terms of scholarships and financial aid," she says.
"I think this is just the beginning. Our vision is to have something like College Advocate in every urban city, helping highly intelligent low-income students get the education they deserve."