During orientation, Yasmin Delahoussaye tells her students, “This is going to be a rigorous process, but if you guys just hang in here with me, there’s going to be a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.”
This year, that pot of gold materialized in the form of $4 Million dollars worth of scholarship funds, which was awarded to 18 students of Educating Students Together (EST), a community-based, non-profit program that helps foster and low-income youth gain access to post-secondary education.
The rigorous process Ms. Delahoussaye refers to includes everything from SAT preparation and coaching for essay writing to professional mentorships and financial literacy classes through Loyola Marymount University’s School of Business. Each of the organization’s offerings helps position its students to stand out among the rest of prospective college applicants.
Less than 1% of all high school students receive a full ride to college, nationwide. Of the graduating students with EST this year, 64% received one. “We’ve exceeded the national average–with students of color,” notes Delahoussaye, who having spent more than 28 years working within the Los Angeles Community College District and for LAUSD, possesses unique insight as to what is required to propel one forward on the road to a successful college career.
College tuitions are at an all-time high, and according to a recent report by the American Association of University Women, 20% of the $1.7 trillion dollars of student loan debt in this country that is owned predominantly by women is carried by Black women. Given these realities, the scholarships that EST is helping to procure for its youth are invaluable.
“White Americans have ten times as much as Black Americans; we want to address the racial wealth disparity in this country,” says Ms. Delahoussaye, who organized Black College Tours prior to the pandemic.
Delahoussaye was compelled to bring focus to these critical statistics as well as the fact that, consistently, a smaller percentage of Black students enroll in college compared to White and Asian groups. A speaking engagement at a local high school opened her eyes when she learned that there was no college counselor staffed. “To me that’s a travesty,” said Delahoussaye. “And it’s something that wouldn’t be tolerated in another community. Because what does that say to those kids? You’re not valued, you’re not college material.”
When Delahoussaye probed the upperclassmen to learn where they were going to school upon graduation, their response was: “I don’t know because I haven’t applied anywhere.”
Delahoussaye acted fast. “I called Cal State L.A. because I know they have a Guardian Scholars program for foster youth, and their application deadline was November 30th. I don’t meet these kids until March. I got them to open up the application portal for all the foster youth, and they all got admitted, the seniors. Not only did they get admitted…we were able to supply the students with all of their dorm room essentials.”
This is one example of the way in which EST advocates for young people in this community. Someone who can attest to the impact of this kind of advocacy is Camryn Burns, a student who attended EST’s program and is poised to attend UCLA in the fall with $1.1 Million dollars in scholarships. She will graduate debt-free.
“EST basically changed my entire mindset going into applying to college, going into picking a college, going into everything related to college,” Burns said in her testimony. “They helped build my confidence in myself to where I was comfortable applying to colleges. I don’t know what I’d be doing right now without EST. So, to the next student, even though you may be hesitant, jump onboard. It will only help you, if not change your life.”
Burns is but one of the students whose lives have been transformed for the better through EST. Another student wants to be a neurosurgeon and has received a full ride to Tennessee State University as well as Meharry Medical School, enabling her to realize that dream. She’s even been shadowing the chief neurosurgeon at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in preparation for her journey. This is the sort of added-value opportunity young people have access to through EST.
Another young woman whose mother died of brain cancer and whose father, a pharmacy tech, is still struggling to pay for the funeral, will be heading to Northwestern University in the fall, on full scholarship.
Yet another is shadowing an engineer at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, preparing for her career in aeronautics.
With the kinds of salaries these young people will demand after graduating, without the burden of student loan debt, their families will prosper and benefit from wealth that can be passed down to the next generation.
EST serves 50 students per year. Given the way the scant team of six (plus 50 volunteers) is impacting the lives of youth and their families, they’d like to do more.
“We are looking for social impact investors,” says Delahoussaye. “We’re on a mission, and we need to raise capital to endow money so we can keep this program going in perpetuity and not always, every single year, be starting over from scratch having to raise money. Right now, I’m limited. I have 200 kids applying for this program. My limit is 50. I don’t have enough money to support more than 50 kids, and even at that, I’m taking a nickel and turning it into a quarter.”
Visit estcap.org to support this program.