Making Augsburg Possible

By Wendi Wheeler ’06

With more than 4,000 students in its undergraduate and graduate programs, Augsburg College strives to create an intentionally diverse and vibrant community by welcoming students of varied backgrounds and experiences.

For many of the students who come to Augsburg, being an Auggie is a dream come true because at one time in their lives, the idea of going to college was nearly impossible to imagine.

That’s where Admission Possible comes in. This program, which was founded in Minnesota in 1999 to help low-income high school students get into college, has brought more than 100 students to Augsburg since its founding. This fall, 63 Admission Possible alumni joined the Augsburg community as first-year students—more than any other private college in the country.

Admission Possible made Augsburg possible for these students. Not only has this program enriched the lives of students and their families, it has also benefited the Augsburg community.

Finding Admission Possible

Juventino “Juve” Meza Rodriguez ’11 came to the U.S. from Mexico when he was 15 years old. Unlike his parents or siblings, Meza Rodriguez had been fortunate to attend school beyond the sixth grade and, though he did not speak English, he was excited about continuing his education in a Minnesota high school. “

I come from a low-income working family; my parents and their parents didn’t go to school. My mom made a big push for education for her children because she wanted us to do something she wasn’t able to do,” he says.

Meza Rodriguez tested into the ninth grade and began classes at Arlington High School in St. Paul. In his neighborhood and in his family, no one had gone to college. “As kids we always said we want to be this or that,” he says, “but realistically I wasn’t thinking that college would be a possibility for me. And my parents of course didn’t think it was an option either.”

In his sophomore year, he dropped out of school, following his friends who had started working and were making money. “I was out of school for one week, and I did not enjoy life,” he says. He asked his parents to help him get back into school, and after that week he appreciated his education more than he had before. “I knew I wanted something more, but I wasn’t sure what that was and I didn’t have people around me who had done it either.”

With a renewed enthusiasm for high school, Meza Rodriguez asked a guidance counselor about college. “She told me I couldn’t go,” he says, but she eventually found a program for him and suggested he apply. That program was Admission Possible.

From the moment he was accepted into the program, Meza Rodriguez was on his way to college, but he was in unfamiliar territory. “When I told my parents that I wanted to go to college, they asked how I was going to do it. I said, ‘I have no idea.’”

Because his parents were unable to support him financially and because they had no experience with higher education, Meza Rodriguez says they left many of the decisions about school up to him. “They would always say, ‘Tu sabes lo que haces,’ (You know what you’re doing). But I didn’t know what I was doing.”

Getting to Augsburg

His Admission Possible coach did know what to do to navigate the complicated and sometimes intimidating landscape of college application. Twice weekly in his junior and senior years, Meza Rodriguez met with his coach and other students. He prepared for the ACT and learned how to select a college that matched his interests, complete the admissions applications, and apply for financial aid including scholarships.

Admission Possible also encouraged Meza Rodriguez to make connections at schools by going on campus visits and attending education fairs. At one such fair for Latino students, he met Carrie Carroll, Augsburg’s assistant vice president of admissions.

“When I got to Carrie’s booth, I told her I had heard about Augsburg and she started asking me questions. We talked for two hours,” he recalls. “She was very welcoming and showed an interest in me that other schools didn’t bother to show.” After their meeting, Carroll e-mailed Meza Rodriguez and encouraged him to apply to Augsburg.

“I applied, and Carrie called my AP coach within six days and said I had been admitted. I was the first student in my AP class to apply and the first to get accepted.”

Carroll says Admission Possible students are attracted to Augsburg because of the financial aid that helps make college possible for more than 90% of traditional day college students. Two programs—Augsburg College Access Program (ACAP) and the Augsburg Promise—are aimed at assisting first-generation and low-income students.

ACAP provides a four-year grant for students who have participated in a college readiness program. The grant covers the cost of tuition not met with federal or state grants for students who are Minnesota residents, have an ACT score of 20 or better, and have a cumulative grade point average of at least 3.25.

More importantly, Carroll says students come because Augsburg has made an institutional commitment to providing access for many different types of students, to creating an intentionally diverse campus, and to engaging students in service to the community. All of these commitments connect closely to Admission Possible values.

“At Augsburg, we are aware of the obstacles some students have faced and will continue to face. We value our students.” As in Meza Rodriguez’s case, Carroll says often a student will make the choice to come to Augsburg, even though they have been accepted elsewhere, simply because the Augsburg staff takes the time to get to know them personally.

Beyond admission

Once students are accepted and begin their college studies, they still encounter many challenges that can make staying in school difficult.

In the past, a team of Admission Possible staffers did some tracking and outreach to their alumni after they had started college. Most of their assistance had been reactionary, however, and they were often brought in when a student was in the midst of a crisis.

This year, Admission Possible has developed a structured college program with coaches who work one-on-one with students on their individual campuses.

Ben Pierson is the college coach at Augsburg this year. Having an office on campus is important because for Admission Possible alumni, “AP” means “help.” Students know they will find a caring adult in Pierson as well as a reliable source of information and support.

Pierson works with Augsburg’s director of retention, the Enrollment and Financial Services staff, admission counselors, and with the other student support programs. His objective is to maintain contact with students and help them find the resources they need before they want or need to drop out.

Making dreams possible

College readiness programs like Admission Possible are just one of the many ways students find Augsburg and realize their dreams. But this program benefits more than the students who enroll and graduate.

Meza Rodriguez and the other Admission Possible alumni featured here set examples for their peers, siblings, and their communities. Their experiences demonstrate that a college education is accessible to anyone, regardless of his or her background or circumstances.

Meza Rodriguez says that Admission Possible has also changed campus atmospheres by introducing students who might not have considered college in the past. “AP helps colleges get out of their comfort zone,” he says, “by welcoming more and more diversity onto their campuses.” It has also helped colleges and universities address much of the stigma that is attached to low-income students, challenging the notion that they are low-achieving or unprepared. In fact, while the fall 2009 first-year class includes 40% students of color, the average ACT score and class rank have remained consistent among Augsburg’s incoming classes over the past four years.

Carroll agrees, adding that Admission Possible students are prepared for success and dedicated to making the most of their college experience. “These are smart, capable students who work very hard to succeed. They just need to be taught how to do this.”

Meza Rodriguez is just one example of the motivated and talented students who find a fit at Augsburg through college readiness programs. He received a President’s Scholarship, which recognizes academic achievement and leadership potential, and he is an Honors program student. In his three years at the College, he has also been a senator in student government, helped found a Latino student organization, and conducted summer research with President Pribbenow as his mentor and adviser.

This fall Meza Rodriguez is studying poverty, inequality, and social change in the Metro Urban Studies Term (MUST) through HECUA, the Higher Education Consortium for Urban Affairs, and is doing an internship with the Citizens League in St. Paul. He has also organized a group at Augsburg to help connect the more than 100 Admission Possible alumni who are now enrolled at the College.

When he participates in Commencement, Meza Rodriguez knows he will be an inspiration not only to members of his community but also to his younger siblings, ages 4 and 8, whom he hopes will one day follow in his footsteps. “My siblings can see that college is possible. So many people around me can now see that it is possible.”

Learn about Admission Possible at www.collegepossible.org/.

Read question-and-answer profiles of three more Admission Possible students at Augsburg >>

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