Temple Alumna Dedicates Her Career to Making College Possible for Others
By: Colleen Kropp
A college degree is, in many ways, the golden ticket for obtaining the career and life opportunities you desire. However, having access—socially and financially—to college is often the initial hurdle to working towards these successes. That reality informs the work of national organization College Possible. Originating in the Midwest, College Possible took root in Philadelphia about four years ago, and Program Director Precious Mines, CLA ’04, wants to shed light on the organization’s role in the School District of Philadelphia and how her own academic path led her into higher education.
Mines graduated from Temple University in September 2004. Nine days later, she began her graduate studies at the Philadelphia Biblical University (now Cairn University) working towards her masters in divinity. While at Temple, Mines started volunteering in afterschool programs. This continued during her graduate work, which saw her working in a Widener Memorial School special needs afterschool program. After graduate school, Mines took a full-time position as a site director at Wordsworth Academy, where she ran their six-week summer camp and afterschool programs for four years, hosting about 100 students.
Eventually, this path brought Mines to an opportunity at a community college working with high school students in an accelerated dual enrollment program. The program allowed students to earn credits while finishing up their high school curriculum. These years of dynamic experience brought Mines into her role at College Possible, where she has been working since January 2016. As Program Director, Mines oversees the organization’s college and high school programs, which she says “feeds [her] passion for education and working with students on some level, as well as learning about the higher-education system and college landscape of Philadelphia.”
So, what does the program look like?
It’s a long-term, committed relationship between the organization and the students they serve with a consistent focus on college information and exploration.
“Our college program works with students around persistence and retention,” explains Mines. “We give them coaches and we stick with our students until they get their degree. Our high school program we start working with students their junior year, and it is all about gaining access to college. We do SAT prep, and they take the SATs with us four times a year. Senior year is all about the application process.
“We help our students understand academic, social and financial fit and how to really navigate that process. We also focus on applying for scholarships. Once they get accepted, we work through acceptances and financial aid packages and do the comparisons with them in order to help them make the best possible decision about what higher-ed institution they want to matriculate into.”
The organization has been in operation for 18 years. While Mines says there have been some growing pains in the new Philadelphia location, it is important to see how this type of programming functions on the East Coast, particularly in the nation’s sixth-largest city. College Possible has served over 30,000 students since its inception and has worked with 416 high school and 637 college students in Pennsylvania alone.
we want our students to go on a campus visit junior year and senior year if they still desire
As Program Director, Mines does a lot to help with brand raising, where she develops the critical partnerships with districts the Philadelphia location serves (they also work in Delaware County). Solid relationships with the schools’ administrations are needed for the programs to work effectively. Managing these relationships enables Mines to facilitate College Possible’s natural expansion into schools like William Penn and Upper Darby.
Mines also helps “bridge” the program’s college partnerships through the Summer Bridge initiative. Temple is one such partner. Students will be making a campus visit here in the near future.
“One of the tenets of our program is we want our students to go on a campus visit junior year and senior year if they still desire,” elaborates Mines. “In order to do that, we solidify partnerships with schools that we call Explore Partners. The college or university will typically pay for the students to come on that visit, paying for transportation and food. The Bridge-level partnership is a little bit more of a financial commitment from the college or university. We give colleges the ability to do targeted recruiting and they are able to approach students who have the support.”
College Possible recruits students at the end of their sophomore year of high school. When they enter one of their partner schools, they attempt to contact as many sophomores as possible, holding information sessions and helping the students understand both the program’s major tenets and the commitment it entails (it’s ultimately a six-to-eight-year commitment for participants). Even if a student is in the program and un-enrolls from their higher-ed institution for a period of time, the College Possible coaches stay with them for six consecutive semesters, should they choose to re-enroll in that time.
One of the fundamental aspects that makes College Possible different from other college access programs is its focus on the academic middle, rather than the high achiever. These are the 2.8-ish GPA students—those who are definitely capable of going to college and succeeding but might need an extra push or leg up. Making sure those students are not being overlooked is a significant defining principle of the organization.
As far as individual details, Mines says that during recruitment they are “looking for students who have higher than a 2.0 and they also have to be low-income. Many of the students in [the School District of Philadelphia] meet that income criteria. We recruit them, interview them, talk to their teachers for recommendations and meet with their parents.”
Because of the low-income status criterion, College Possible works hard to partner with groups that will provide scholarships or allocate funds for students. Sometimes that comes in the form of grants. Other times it can be financial aid packages from their college partners. For example, many students were showing an interest in Cabrini College. One year after they partnered with College Possible, Cabrini went from having two College Possible students to 19. Advocacy is a critical element of the program in general and Mines’ position in particular.
I started to feel really connected working with the students
While in high school, students enrolled in the program have access to their College Possible coaches in their schools Monday through Thursday. The SAT prep takes place at the schools themselves, which students attend twice a week, working with their Princeton Review-trained coaches. The coaches enable them to work towards a score that’s attractive to a four-year institution and, as Mines puts it, enables them “to strengthen their intangible skills as well, like being able to conquer a test like the SAT.”
Once students move into the college program, they remain connected to their coaches through technology over the phone, text, Skype, social media, etc. The expectation is that coaches will have three major touchpoints with their students each academic year. Watching the coaches and students build relationships is one of the most rewarding aspects of the job.
It would be natural to assume Mines had studied education or something in that vein while at Temple, but that’s not the case. She was a political science major with a strong interest in going to law school. Mines was studying for the LSAT at the time she was volunteering in some of these early experiences in afterschool programs.
“I started to feel really connected working with the students, but never thought I would fall in love with education and want to do it for a living,” she recalls. “I grew up in the Philadelphia school system, but Girls High was different from a lot of other schools. Being able to see what other students were going through made me really intrigued to see how could I help, how could I make an impact, what systems can I help to change, how can I advocate on behalf of these students in order to see some of these systematic issues be addressed. It was not my goal initially, and now I’ve been working in schools for 15 years!”
Mines’ commitment to advocacy and the higher-education system is an impressive undertaking. The passion that has grown for her work and those connected to it over the last decade and a half illustrates just how meaningful personal connections can be and how the willingness to enact positive change can have a long-lasting effect.