A program that pairs student-mentors from the University of Washington with low-income middle and high school students has had a significant impact helping those students get into college, a new consultant report has concluded.
The program is called the Dream Project, and it was started 10 years ago by University of Washington undergraduates. In 2014, the program touched about 2,000 students at 16 high schools, and another 1,000 middle school students at nine schools.
The program recruits UW undergraduates to go into a select group of Seattle-area high schools and help the younger students work on college applications, financial aid and scholarship paperwork. Called a peer-to-peer mentoring program, the project’s aim is to improve college-going rates for low-income and first-generation high school students. And according to a report by RTI International, a consulting firm based in Berkeley, Calif., it’s doing the job.
RTI’s analysis showed that in 2012, nearly 80 percent of Dream Project participants who enrolled in college went to a four-year college or university — better than comparison districts, and an important measure because students who go to four-year schools are more likely to finish their degrees.
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Perhaps the most positive result was from students who participated in 2007 and 2008, enrolled in college, and finished their degrees. Of the students in Renton High School’s 2007 Dream Project group who enrolled in college, 47 percent completed their four-year degree, compared with 35 percent of students district-wide in Renton. And of the students in Seattle’s 2008 Dream Project cohort who enrolled in college, 63 percent completed their four-year degree, compared with 25 percent of students district-wide in Seattle.
A survey of participants showed that the students had learned how to apply for financial aid and knew what high school classes they needed to take to make them eligible for college. Participants said the mentors had helped them plan for their futures, and even assisted them through personal struggles.
The report noted that while college-going rates varied by cohort, high school and school district, the results overall were “quite promising.”
The Dream Project has been funded largely by a four-year, $972,000 grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which also funds The Seattle Times’ Education Lab project.