First-Generation Scholarships Promote Socioeconomic Diversity at Pomona College
December 20, 2012
For first-generation students like Mariah Barber ’15 applying to college can be a daunting task. Her father, a contractor, and her mother, a road construction worker, had not attended college themselves, and the rural Pennsylvania school she attended did not provide much assistance. “The guidance counselors channeled everybody into community college, maybe the state school, or maybe no college at all,” Barber says.
Fortunately, Barber received the guidance she needed through QuestBridge, a national program that helps low-income students find educational and scholarship opportunities. And thanks to a generous $2.5 million gift from Robert ’64 and Allison Price creating four-year scholarships for first-generation college students, Barber and three other students are able to attend Pomona without having to worry about the financial burden.
It’s not surprising that many students are deeply worried about how they’ll be able to pay for college. Indeed, according to a recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, more and more colleges are cutting back on need-based aid.
But Pomona is among the institutions that remain dedicated to increasing socioeconomic diversity. “We’ve definitely made the commitment to help the lowest-income students afford Pomona,” says Mary Booker, the College’s director of financial aid. The current fund-raising campaign, Daring Minds, is seeking $65 million to expand support for scholarships. The efforts are already paying off. In Pomona’s freshman Class of 2016, 14.3 percent are first-generation college students.
“We do not yet mirror the distribution of socioeconomic diversity of the country, but we’ve come a lot closer than ever in our history,” President David Oxtoby said in an address this fall.
Attracting high-achieving, low-income students is itself no easy task. A recent White House report on higher education stressed the problem of “information barriers”—children from low-income backgrounds often did not have the guidance to find schools and apply for aid. Such students often ruled out colleges based on cost before even exploring aid options.
One very effective solution has been community-based programs. Pomona actively works with such programs—which include QuestBridge, the Posse Foundation and similar organizations. Pomona has been able to enroll low-income and first-generation students from across the country, further building the College’s national reputation.
Freshman Kayla Rodriguez, another student who is receiving a Price Scholarship, hails from the working-class suburb of Humble, Texas. Her experiences point out the value of the community-based approach; she attended a public charter run by YES Prep, a network of public charter schools in Greater Houston. The school’s counselors encourage students to think about college early on and guide them through the process. Many of Rodriguez’s neighborhood friends who did not attend the charter school did not go on to college: “They just didn’t have the resources I had.”
Junior Brenda Iglesias, another Price Scholar, attended a magnet school in East Los Angeles and applied to Pomona through QuestBridge. She is the third student helped by the alumni gift. “The fact that we do have this aid is a big help because going to school—not having to worry how your parents are going to pay for it—it’s so important.” The freedom from worry gives Iglesias, a biology major, a wider range of options in her future choices.
Receiving aid also influences the direction of students’ careers, says Barber, a public policy analysis major: “Many are majoring in social science because they want to give back to the community.”
Psychology major Stefanie Fuentes ’13, the fourth student to benefit from the Price gift, plans to continue her studies at the graduate level and eventually do academic research to benefit the community.
Fuentes sees the aid for first-generation college students as indispensable for the health of that community. Without it, “We wouldn’t make any progress. People would just get stuck in the lifestyle they grew up in. It would really be sad if people at the top were always the only ones at the top.”
To learn more about admission to Pomona, visit www.pomona.edu/admissions. To learn more about financial aid, visit www.pomona.edu/admissions/apply/financial-aid.aspx.
This article was originally featured in our Daring Minds Campaign newsletter. For information on giving to Pomona, please visit https://community.pomona.edu/sslpage.aspx?pid=473.