On College Success: Six questions with Kim Mazzuca, 10,000 Degrees

This is a blog series focused on how the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation approaches college success work. You will hear from our partners who work each day to help students improve academically, complete rigorous curricula, and cross financial hurdles. You can read the whole series here.

At the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, we are committed to making college completion a reality for all students. Too often, students who attend college end up leaving before earning their degree. All students face challenges like managing a new workload or figuring out financial aid when they first attend college, but for low-income, first-generation students these challenges could mean the end of their college careers. To help address these challenges, we partner with organizations that focus on helping students who are in college get across the graduation stage. One of our partners, 10,000 Degrees, provides a range of supports for students, including financial aid management to peer advisory group meetings. We spoke with Kim Mazzuca, President & CEO of 10,000 Degrees, about their work and her vision for the future in the college completion space.

How did you get involved in education?

I’ve always had a sense about the social inequities people who have been traditionally underrepresented in the education area experience.  I am a first-generation college student. My parents had no idea what college was about. They certainly did not have the resources to fully support me. I had to find my own way. I experienced the difference in opportunities that people who came from privileged backgrounds had relative to those who didn’t have those resources.

What drives your passion for education?

Our society has continued to marginalize communities of people. Even though in-roads have been made in college access, we’re still seeing achievement gaps in college degree attainment rates relative to race, ethnicity, and socioeconomics. I’m motivated when I see young people who can break the cycle of poverty if they have the opportunity for education. To me, it’s become an economic imperative, as well as a social and moral imperative in our country.

Tell us about your organization, 10,000 Degrees.

We help San Francisco Bay Area students from low-income backgrounds get to and all the way through college. Through our innovative fellowship program, we provide a wraparound support program to provide guidance on college preparation, as well as the financial resources and financial management students need to access and complete their baccalaureate degrees. We don’t have a GPA requirement because research shows students are not achieving at certain levels because they haven’t been given educational opportunities. Currently, more than 80 percent of our students who attend a four-year college earn their baccalaureate degrees within six years. Of the students who start at a community college, 31 percent are earning their baccalaureate degrees. Our goal is to double that number.

Tell us about your students.

One of our students, DJ, began working with us as a sophomore in high school and had a 0.9 GPA. He was homeless for most of his adolescence.  Nearly everyone had given up on him. A friend suggested DJ work with us at 10,000 Degrees. Not only did he complete our high school program, we supported him through five years of community college because he had so much remedial work to do. DJ went on to be a scholar at the University of California at Berkeley. He is now in a nursing master’s program in San Diego.  This is just one example of what students can achieve when given the opportunity and the support they need.

What’s your vision for education over the next 10 years?

We want to achieve transformative scale. Those of us in the college completion sector have to get serious about collaborating to achieve such an enormous goal. We have to talk about equity. It’s one thing to talk about college access and success, but it’s another to talk about what our programs are doing to ameliorate the inequities.

What’s your message to others working in college completion?

Everyone in the college access and success sector needs to rethink the criteria for students accepted into their programs and into the institutions that can provide a high-quality education for our students.

The Michael & Susan Dell Foundation’s investments in educational programs while fostering collaboration is a great first step toward achieving transformative scale.  For everyone in the college completion space, it’s our obligation to look beyond ourselves and our organizations and think about how we can truly do it together.  Education is the key to achieving a more humane, socially just and equitable world.