News and analysis
October 15, 2009

AmeriCorps and a Nod from Obama Give College-Access Group a Lift

Admission Possible, in St. Paul, started in 2000 to support low-income high-school juniors and seniors pursuing college. It opened a Milwaukee pilot program last fall, its first expansion.

The group's founder, Jim McCorkell, says Milwaukee's affiliate has already met student recruiting and fund-raising benchmarks set by Admission Possible's headquarters (the latter with the help of local corporate and foundation grants). "We can't see a reason why we couldn't be replicating at least a site a year," he says.

The program uses volunteers from AmeriCorps, the federal nationalservice program, to help students prepare for college admission tests, put together their applications, seek financial aid, develop leadership skills, and more. Participants in the Twin Cities have increased their ACT scores by 20 percent on average, according to the organization. In the class of 2008, 95 percent of 566 seniors enrolled in college. Since the program's start, 80 percent of participants are still working toward their degree or have graduated.

AmeriCorps provides about 25 percent of the organization's budget. And AmeriCorps just got a big boost under the recently passed Serve America Act, which, Mr. McCorkell says, could help spur Admission Possible's growth.

Lowering Costs

The organization's ambitions for expansion also got a lift in June, when President Obama singled out the group in a speech spotlighting social entrepreneurship.

"Admission Possible operates in just two states now," Mr. Obama said. "So imagine if it were 10 or 20 or 50."

It costs about $250,000 to start a program to serve 60 students, or more than $4,100 for each student. Once the program expands and reaches full capacity, the per-student cost drops. Mr. McCorkell says that for an established program of 400 students, the cost is approximately $1,500 per student.

Admission Possible has begun to analyze other potential cities as future program sites but has no firm plans yet. It says it will wait one more year before pursuing further expansion, hoping to build momentum and create competition among organizers who want to bid to participate. Next year, it will have test results for the first class of Milwaukee seniors, and staff members believe it will show the model can be duplicated.