For The Posse Foundation, forward movement started with just one sentence.
In 1989, Founder and President Deborah Bial was working with talented young people from impoverished urban areas in New York City. She watched these ambitious students leave for college, only to see them return before the semester was through, having dropped out of school. When asked what had gone wrong, one student replied, “If I only had my posse with me, I never would have dropped out.”
And so began The Posse Foundation, an endeavor to send groups of bright students to colleges and universities together as a posse: a support system to ensure each student persists to graduation. Its first partner institution, Vanderbilt University, is now in good company, with 51 colleges and universities across the United States forming the Posse consortium. Its scholars, more than 5,500 in total, have met with great success, winning coveted fellowships (including 35 Fulbright scholars since 2007) and job placements after graduation.
“I don’t think I’ve ever met a Posse scholar and not been in awe of what they’ve done—on campus, in a professional setting, how they’re giving back,” says Karen Matts, Posse Chicago Senior Development Officer.
Posse Chicago works with all of Chicago Public Schools to solicit nominations of talented, hardworking students. The interview process, called the Dynamic Assessment Process, is a nontraditional way to find students who can be successful in college. The interviews hone in on leadership abilities and non-cognitive characteristics in addition to GPA and academic standing. Around 100 promising students are selected annually from a pool of more than 2,500 and awarded a four-year, full-tuition leadership scholarship to a partner institution.
While in high school, Posse students attend regular workshops within their peer groups, emphasizing team building, leadership and academic excellence. Throughout their college tenure, students meet regularly with mentors to support their continued success, and such support continues past graduation, as students transition from campus to the workforce. Posse also offers 10 graduate school partnerships, including Northwestern’s School of Law and the Kellogg School of Management, which provide scholarships and other forms of financial assistance to Posse alumni admitted on their own merit.
The typical Posse scholar is a true standout. “Our scholars are smart,” says Matts, who notes that the application process emphasizes nontraditional leadership roles. “Of course we tap the class president and the winner of the science fair, but then we also have students who saw injustice in their neighborhood and stepped up to organize a rally. Or maybe they live at home with their grandmother and three siblings, so they work a full-time job, go to school and take care of their siblings.”
“Our results really speak for themselves,” she continues. “We have a 90 percent graduation rate. When you look at Chicago Public Schools, only 8 percent of students receive a bachelor’s degree.”
Posse Chicago has 11 college and university partners, including Cornell University and University of Wisconsin-Madison.
The Posse Foundation By The Numbers: