Koret Scholarships: Increasing college persistence and success

Higher Education

Koret Scholarships: Increasing college persistence and success

Higher Education

The Bay Area is home to an impressive concentration of colleges and universities. It is also demographically diverse, home to many students who ardently hope to be the first in their families to earn a college degree. For some first-generation college students, acceptance to a school and the means to cover tuition are merely the first of the challenges they will encounter in their pursuit of a degree and a career. Students from other underserved groups—including underrepresented minorities, low-income students, former foster youth, and veterans—confront similar obstacles to persistence and degree completion.

As part of our 2020 Higher Education Initiative, Koret granted funds to nine Greater Bay Area colleges and universities for Koret Scholars programs. The goal of the Koret Scholarships is to increase perseverance to degree completion by students in these underserved groups. We developed Koret Scholarships as part of our 2016 Higher Education Initiative, and the results have led the Foundation to refine and expand this form of personalized financial support. A total of 1,900 scholarships will be awarded during the grant period. (A full list of grantee institutions is available here.) The scholarships, which are primarily needs based, can be classified into two forms of support: flexible spending, to alleviate financial obstacles to academic perseverance, and research stipends, to provide high-impact learning opportunities.

A distinguishing aspect of the program is that leadership at each campus sets selection criteria and program format at their own discretion. This campus-by-campus customized approach to scholarships is based on the Foundation’s trust in our grantees to know both what will best serve their students, and how to design programs that have long-term impact at the institutional level. Flexible funding—especially during these uncertain times in higher education—allows schools to pivot quickly to provide a range of supports for these students in need. This is unusual, as institutional bureaucracies tend to move glacially; flexible funding allows them to be nimble in addressing students’ challenges. Additionally, administrators are often able to leverage their Koret Scholars funding to secure grants from other sources.

"This year has been a roller coaster of events, and I greatly appreciate the scholarship for giving me the chance to focus on my schooling."

Camellia Nasrah, Class of 2024

University of San Francisco

"The hundreds of hours that I spent in my lab culminated in being published in the premier academic chemistry journal, which is my proudest accomplishment at Cal."

Katia Gibson, Class of 2021

UC Berkeley

"The Koret Scholarship has made it possible for me to acquire a minor in global public health, complementing my major in nutritional sciences, to support my studies towards medical school and equitable promotion of healthy habits."

Tina Kim, Class of 2021

UC Berkeley

"AvenueE really allowed my transition to UC Davis to be mostly seamless. Having this sense of community made me feel 100% supported."

Shanice Blake, Class of 2021

UC Davis

"This [research] experience has motivated me to apply to graduate programs, and I will be attending the University of Delaware in the fall of 2021 to pursue my doctorate."

Hannah Brownlee, Class of 2021

Sonoma State University

  • Increasing persistence through flexible spending

    Throughout my college search, I wanted USF to be my home for the next four years. When the pandemic hit, it affected my family in significant ways, and I began to think that we could not afford the tuition—until I received my financial aid package. Being a Koret Scholar gives me the chance to build my future in a way where I can be successful in whatever I do.

     – Hailey May, Class of 2024, University of San Francisco

    An emerging body of literature supports the impact of micro-grants at key points in academic life.  Koret’s own findings confirm that a relatively modest scholarship can significantly improve student perseverance to graduation. Many Koret Scholars receive aid from several sources, so their Koret Scholarships may represent a small percentage of their total aid—but their support from Koret is almost always the most flexible in its use.

    The University of San Francisco (USF), for example—has deepened their Koret Scholarships to provide longer-term financial security, in the form of $6,900/year with the opportunity to apply for consecutive years. USF leadership has determined that this ongoing support should allow students to plan their studies more strategically and pro-actively than the previous Koret Scholarship structure ($2,000/year for two consecutive years). Fewer students will receive the new scholarships, but USF leaders feel the new arrangement will be more valuable to the students who do receive it.

    I am majoring in architecture and, thus far, it has been such a great learning experience. The pandemic has financially burdened my family and me. It is very hard finding a job during these times, so my Koret Scholarship has relieved much pressure. This year has been a roller coaster of events, and I greatly appreciate the scholarship for giving me the chance to focus on my schooling.

      – Camellia Nasrah, Class of 2024, University of San Francisco

    Three grantee schools—City College of San Francisco, UC Berkeley, and Sonoma State—have a structure for rapid-response emergency funding as part of their Koret Scholars support. Despite the financial boost provided by the scholarships, unexpected needs can derail even the most motivated Koret Scholars. These students tend not to have the financial cushion or social or professional network that might lighten the burden of a personal crisis. The availability of emergency aid has been shown to have a positive impact far beyond the relatively minimal institutional investment.

  • Attracting and retaining high-potential students

    Public universities are frequently at a disadvantage when it comes to recruiting promising students—who may be offered attractive scholarship packages by private schools with more substantial means. To attract a diverse range of highly qualified low-income students, UC Berkeley has designed the Koret Discovery Scholars Program, working with local high schools to identify and encourage such candidates. Discovery Scholarships are awarded to incoming freshmen, along with the option to receive stipends in subsequent years for research, internship, and enrichment opportunities. Such experiences provide students a setting in which to excel, further preparing them for graduate work or career launch.

    In 2020, I was granted the Koret Scholarship for my fall semester, researching chemistry education. I was able to explore passions in chemistry fields beyond the lab. In 2019, I received the Koret Scholarship on another cycle to conduct organic chemistry, wet-lab research. The hundreds of hours that I spent in my lab culminated in being published in the premier academic chemistry journal, which is my proudest accomplishment at Cal.

    – Katia Gibson, Class of 2021, UC Berkeley

    The stipends give Koret Scholars the leeway to select a summer internship or research experience that will help them grow intellectually and professionally, a valuable opportunity to level the playing field with their more privileged classmates. Although the stipends were originally envisioned for in-person experiences, UC Berkeley has been pro-active and creative in developing virtual alternatives. Thanks to technology, the potential for long-distance research collaborations is almost limitless. As well, other schools and corporate employers have become increasingly adept at developing virtual internships and other practical experiences within the confines of COVID restrictions.

    The Koret Scholarship has made it possible for me to acquire a minor in global public health, complementing my major in nutritional sciences, to support my studies towards medical school and equitable promotion of healthy habits. My perspective has significantly expanded on public health topics, and I am equipped with tools to understand the US “healthcare crisis” and health insurance system, biostatistics and epidemiology research, and prevalent infections and diseases afflicting the world.

    Tina Kim, Class of 2021, UC Berkeley

  • Engineering a smooth transfer experience

    AvenueE really allowed my transition to UC Davis to be mostly seamless. Having this sense of community in AvenueE made me feel 100% supported. It is really an amazing program and, as far as I know, it is unmatched with all the resources and support that it provides for transfer students.

    – Shanice Blake, Class of 2021, UC Davis

    With grants from the Koret Foundation and the Chevron Corporation, UC Davis has piloted AvenueE. The program supports students with a demonstrated commitment to or potential for leadership to positively impact and eliminate barriers that prevent full participation of women, underrepresented minorities in engineering and computer science, and those students from families in which neither parent holds a bachelor’s degree. The pilot was so successful that the College of Engineering adopted the program (previously administered by the Office of the Provost) and has absorbed some administrative costs.

    This quarter I got to talk to so many professionals that it is a little unbelievable. Last year I would not have thought that I would feel as confident talking to professionals as I do now, keeping in mind my value as a student, potential intern, and employee when I interact with each of them. Having so many guests in our meetings, having a professional mentor, and going to the virtual career fair…really helped me understand what the life of professionals is like.

    –  Jorge Menjivar, Class of 2022, UC Davis

    A signature component of AvenueE is the Transfer Bridge program. This two-week full-time orientation had been held on campus in the past, but was migrated online for Fall 2020. Early indications show this program was effective in connecting Koret Scholars to available resources and helping them become comfortable and engaged in their weekly cohort meetings, quarterly advising, professional and peer mentoring, and research activities. Through these efforts and other services provided by the program, AvenueE is reducing barriers that make persistence and degree completion challenging for transfer students.

  • Leveraging research opportunities

    I am learning how to be a better researcher, ask different questions, and conduct research. This experience and the knowledge I’ve gained as part of a multi-disciplinary team has inspired me both to further my education and to branch out of my discipline to gather different viewpoints. It has helped solidify that I want to continue in research after I graduate.

    – Tania Arango Rodriguez, Sonoma State University

    The Koret Scholars program at Sonoma State University (SSU) offers upper-level undergraduates a $750 scholarship paired with a faculty-mentored research project. These opportunities can be a significant tool for increasing diversity and reducing the achievement gap between underserved students and their peers. A team of four students, under the direction of a faculty mentor, pursues a research topic, and then presents findings at a year-end symposium.

    From this research project I am learning empirical skills—manuscript writing, how to conduct literature reviews, conference presentation methods, and so much more—that will allow me to transition successfully to a doctoral program in clinical psychology. This experience has motivated me to apply to graduate programs, and I will be attending the University of Delaware in the fall of 2021 to pursue my doctorate.

    – Hannah Brownlee, Class of 2021, Sonoma State University

    The success of the program’s first iteration, funded by Koret’s previous Higher Education Initiative, has led Koret to fund the Sonoma Mountain Connection program, a new research initiative to prepare first- and second-year undergraduates for high-quality research opportunities such as Koret Scholars.

    With these programs as a foundation, SSU envisions expanding undergraduate research experiences to become a required part of every student’s university experience, helping SSU set itself apart from other Cal State campuses. Koret’s confidence in leadership has allowed the school to leverage the Koret Scholars program to shape priorities at the institutional level.

     

For the current round of funding, as program details and mechanisms have been put in place at each school, program administrators are able to adjust in real time various ways to support their Koret Scholars. Their reporting helps the Foundation learn more about what approaches work best. We are optimistic, despite the challenges of the prolonged pandemic, about the potential for these scholarships both to propel individual recipients toward their educational goals and to improve college persistence and graduation rates for the most marginalized student populations. Supporting one student at a time seems a worthwhile way to prepare this next generation for meaningful careers as we emerge from the current health and economic crises. Their innovations and other contributions will help shape the future.

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