Dell Scholars Program: What it takes to achieve college success

Today we announced our 14th and largest class of 400 Dell Scholars, up from 350 in 2016 and 300 from 2009-2015.  In aggregate, the Dell Scholars Program has now supported over 3,800 dedicated students on their road to achieving a bachelor’s degree.  Our success – 75 percent of our scholars obtain a degree within six years – is primarily attributable to the students’ hard work, perseverance, and ability to overcome the substantial obstacles that often derail low socio-economic, first-generation college goers.  This year again, we are proud and humbled to be working with such amazing students and doing whatever we can to assist them on their college journey.

Getting them to college

We also want to recognize that the Dell Scholars Program wouldn’t be possible without the incredible partnership of 25 College Readiness Programs (CRP) that do so much of the heavy lifting in helping students prepare for college while they’re in high school.  These approved CRPs are our sole source for the 8,631 student applications we received for this year’s class, as all Dell Scholar Program candidates must have participated in one of these CRPs for at least two years.  Several studies have shown that preparing students more completely for college while they’re in high school results in increased college graduation rates, so our CRPs contribute greatly to our program’s success.  We are extremely thankful that these organizations enable us to serve our amazing scholars year after year.


College completion: The next phase of their journey

Unfortunately, we know that just getting these students enrolled in college isn’t where the job ends.  According to a 2011 Pell Institute report, only 16 percent of U.S. students with parental income below $30,000 annually who enrolled in a two-year or four-year college received a bachelor’s degree within six years.  Thus, it is imperative that we give our scholars plenty of support during their college years, and that support extends far beyond just the financial component of our program.

As a long-time practitioner in the College Success space, we have identified the four areas of expertise that we believe are critical success factors in graduating our scholars:

  1. Data-driven: Having data drives action, so we collect different types of data (e.g. academics, financial, and situational information such as work hours, transportation, housing, and dependents) and frequently evaluate that data within our processes
  2. Intervention types: We understand the first-generation, low-income student college experience very well, so the type of supports we deliver are things our scholars are often not receiving elsewhere (e.g. in-depth financial aid analysis, self-advocacy/empowerment development, success behavior gaps, course load balance advice, dealing with personal family issues, etc.)
  3. Fill service gaps: We keep core service (advising, tracking, facilitating) in-house but use other providers if they can have a large impact in a scalable/lean manner (e.g. ComPsych for counseling, financial planning, legal advice, personal development, Chegg for reducing textbook cost burden and academic support)
  4. Student relationships: to advise our 1,800+ active scholars, we listen, are empathetic, motivate, encourage, and guide them, and we also make sure that each scholar has goals and a plan to reach them. That means working with them at a one-to-one level.

There are no shortcuts, but if we give them the assistance and tools they need, these students can reach their goals.

While it would be great if there were a silver bullet that could enable our scholars – and students like them – to complete college at the same rate as their higher-income classmates, we know there isn’t one.  To support these students all the way down the road to college completion takes a lot of hard work and proven processes. There are no shortcuts, but if we give them the assistance and tools they need, these students can reach their goals.  For this 14th class of the Dell Scholars Program, our support begins today…and it doesn’t end until each of our scholars walks across a stage and receives a diploma.

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