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2010 Spring Issue 2 (April 16, 2010)

College Council renews Posse Program for next five years

April 16, 2010
By Lily VanderStaay

On Tuesday April 6, College Council approved the continuation of the Posse scholars program at Carleton for the next five years. The decision was unanimous and aligned with the recommendation of the Admissions and Financial Aid Committee (AFAC) that the program continue.

Each year the Posse program admits between nine to twelve students from the Chicago area that are awarded full tuition scholarships to Carleton.

Posse aims to specifically select under-represented students with leadership potential that might otherwise be overlooked in the traditional selection process of elite schools.

Begun in 1989, Posse is a nationwide program that selects students from six different cities and places them in elite liberal art colleges such as Carleton, as well as state and private universities. Carleton was invited to join the Posse program in 1999 and admitted its first group of Posse scholars in 2001. Eighty percent of the Posse students admitted to Carleton have graduated since then.

Central to the Posse mission are the dual aims of developing a diverse student body and creating a successful support network to aid underrepresented students that may feel out of place within their institution. At the request of AFAC, Posse students recounted their experience at Carleton and emphasized the impact the Posse community had on their success and contentment. Posse scholars said the group provided a form of support and encouragement that faculty and staff are simply unable to provide. Additionally, AFAC requested reflections from Posse Carleton alumni. Among a plethora of positive responses AFAC received, one alumni said, “Gratefully, Posse understood me and my potential better than I did.”

Contrary to rumors regarding insufficient funding Posse was in fact up for review by the College Council as part of a standard evaluation required of all similar programs at five-year intervals. The prevailing concern regarding the renewal of Posse was the preparedness of Posse students for the rigorous Carleton curriculum. Posse students reported often feeling overwhelmed and inefficient in comparison to their classmates, especially with in their first year at Carleton. Similarly, GPA statistics illustrate a lower mean grade point average for Posse students than for Carleton students at large.

Despite these challenges AFAC urged College Council to recognize the overwhelming benefits of the Posse program. As part of a national network with an established process of student selection Posse effectively allows Carleton to bring in underrepresented students from a broad range of urban communities, an objective no other recruiting tool achieves with such success. Furthermore, in comparison to the introductory years of Posse at Carleton the graduation rates of Posse scholars are now much closer to that of their peers, showing that Posse is only becoming more successful.

Carleton’s statement of diversity reads, “to educate talented and diverse students” and specifically “we have a strong commitment to underrepresented groups.”  In line with his repeated public support of the program, President Rob Oden said that Posse is the most important idea in higher education in the last three decades. ”

The financial viability of the program was a subsequent concern of the College Council. The full tuition scholarships cost Carleton $130,000 annually. Consideration was specifically given to the award of need-blind full tuition scholarships. Outside of National Merit Scholars, Carleton does not offer non-need based financial aid. AFAC concluded that although the Posse program occasionally grants scholarships beyond the imperative need of students, these were very rare cases and did not qualify as an intolerable financial burden.

Progress is now underway towards a Posse summer program to ease the transition for incoming Posse scholars. Such a program would focus on revealing to Posse scholars what will be expected of them at Carleton and expanding on their high school education with a short curriculum designed to prepare them for Carleton classes. 

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