James Mccorkell: Making College Possible for Low-Income Students
My Work: Making college admission and success possible for low-income students through intense coaching and support.
Check out this video of Jim's work:
This profile was prepared when Jim McCorkell was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2006.
The New Idea
Jim has engineered an effective, low cost way to give low-income students the opportunity to attend college. Admission Possible assembles promising, low-income teens into 8 to 12 person teams that are led by a youth worker who is a recent college graduate. These teams are designed to help the students to prepare for taking standardized tests such as SAT and ACT, apply for financial aid, select the right courses to prepare for college, write their college applications, and make the transition to college.While there are other programs that help low-income students attend college, Admission Possible succeeds, at one fifth the average cost, for three main reasons. First, teams are the building blocks of the program. The 8 to 12 students in a team form a genuine support community for each other over the course of two years. This counters the rampant peer pressure to under-perform that plagues many disadvantaged communities. Second, Admission Possible gives each student more than 300 hours of direct service over the two years—an amount that greatly surpasses the commitments of other programs. Finally, Jim’s program uses national service program volunteers who are aspiring teachers and counselors as team leaders. Using this approach a mere 25 leaders can serve 600 students for two years and achieve a 98 percent success rate for about $1,500 per student per year.The team-based element, and the critical role of the team leader, are the cornerstones of the program’s effectiveness. Team support creates multiple benefits for the students and the team-leaders, and it compensates for the relative lack of environmental supports available to low-income students interested in attending college compared to their more privileged counterparts. Jim deliberately fosters a strong climate of camaraderie and a sense that each person has a responsibility for the success of the team. As a result the teams become strong and encouraging support networks for these aspiring youth.Jim’s program is also unique because the team leaders are drawn from national service programs like AmeriCorps. This means they are young, idealistic, committed to service, and, because they earn only a modest living stipend, the cost of delivering services with them is exceptionally low. These young people have only their one or two year service term to leave their mark—this motivation produces hard-working, results-focused leaders who themselves emerge better equipped to face their careers. The infrastructure of the national service programs also provides a framework for replicating Admission Possible.Nationally, 50 percent of college students drop out before attaining their degrees and most of the low-income students drop out by their third year. Now in its fifth year, nearly 90 percent of Admission Possible’s students are still enrolled or have graduated.