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A New Approach to Admissions Counseling

“Despite the best efforts of many, the gap between the numbers of rich and poor college graduates continues to grow.”

Harold O. Levy, a former chancellor of the New York City public schools and education technology investor, recently wrote those words in a New York Times editorial, and they’re being echoed across the landscape of secondary education. Officials are increasingly searching for ways to increase access to higher learning institutions, particularly for students with household incomes under $60,000.

A new pilot program, called Project SOAR, aims to reach underserved young people in their communities, and give them college admissions help right where they live. Los Angeles was chosen as one of nine test cities, and now, in a small office tucked into a housing project near Watts, Maria Perez is helping kids from her former neighborhood believe they can achieve their college dreams.

“If we are able to plant a small seed and get them to start thinking about college, then we’ve made a difference,” Perez told EdSource.

Perez, who received a degree from Smith university, understands that her academic achievement was a longshot. Her familiarity with realities facing these kids—families in LA’s public housing facilities have an average income of $21,634—makes her uniquely suited to serve this community.

If the program increases enrollment from low-income areas, it’s possible it could be rolled out nationally. And with 194,000 American teens age 15 to 20 living in public housing, that’s a huge potential impact.