Senior Rosey Martinez leads fifth graders from Chicago's Learn Charter School on a tour of Northwestern as part of a Promote 360 event to encourage college attendance.
SESP Helps Steer Northwestern as an Engine for Social Mobility
Rosey Martinez, one of 13 children in a Chicago immigrant family, remembers when she was in fifth grade and an older sister asked her about college. "It's not for me!" she quickly retorted, echoing her friends. Now, however, she is a SESP senior and a campus leader at Northwestern. She explains, "My family helped me to consider college, and my high school helped me to consider Northwestern."
She especially credits an older brother with guiding her on the route to college, making sure she did homework, studied for exams and thought about college. Then at Walter Payton High School, a Chicago Public Schools magnet school, she got high grades and encouragement to stretch for a highly competitive college. In contrast, many of her friends who went to the neighborhood high school dropped out and got pregnant. "Your peer group matters so much," she emphasizes.
To encourage other capable Chicago students in disadvantaged circumstances to consider Northwestern, Martinez worked with President Morton Schapiro and 18 other committee members on the Ad Hoc Task Force on Chicago/Evanston Undergraduate Recruitment and Success.
Convened by Schapiro and with five members from SESP, the task force developed a Good Neighbor, Great University scholarship program especially for graduates of high schools in Chicago and Evanston. "We want to make it clear to people that we want them and encourage them to apply," Schapiro says. All students admitted to Northwestern who attended high school in Chicago or Evanston will receive needbased financial aid packages free of so-called "selfhelp" requirements. In other words, they will not have any student loans, work-study requirements and summer earnings expectations, according to Michael Mills, associate provost for University enrollment. The University announced the new program publicly in August.
"With campuses in Chicago and Evanston, Northwestern has a special commitment to reach out to graduates of high schools in these two world-class cities," Schapiro says. He adds that the program is not just about getting students to Northwestern but also making sure they succeed once they arrive. "We plan on investing in resources for these students and for everyone at Northwestern," he says.
From the time he became president, Schapiro has articulated a commitment to increasing college access and affordability for low-income students. He maintains that colleges should be "engines for social mobility" rather than forces for stratification. "We want to be part of the solution rather than exacerbate existing disparities," he explains.
An expert on the economics of higher education, Schapiro is widely known for his research on needbased aid and responsiveness to financial aid packages. He is also well aware of the University of Chicago finding that only one of three top-ranked Chicago Public Schools students goes to a college as selective as he or she could. When these top students go to less selective schools, "the probability that they'll graduate plummets," Schapiro notes. "Why would two out of three waste the opportunity to go to a school like Northwestern?" he asks.
The Task Force Team
The twofold mission of the task force was to determine how to attract minority and socially disadvantaged students from Chicago and Evanston and ensure the students' success at Northwestern. Contributions from SESP were key to shaping both aspects of the Good Neighbor, Great University program.
Dean Penelope Peterson co-chaired the task force, which had representatives from the Northwestern faculty, staff, trustees and student body. SESP professors James Rosenbaum and Carol Lee were task force members. "We were looking for faculty with research expertise on what really matters," says Schapiro.
Rosenbaum, who studies access to college, explains the value of the new program this way: "There's a great concern about the complexity of financial aid discouraging disadvantaged students from attending college, and many students worry about sticker shock, not realizing that the actual cost for those from lowincome backgrounds is considerably less, sometimes even less than the cost of public universities. This program is an effort to try to simplify the process for families in need."
"There has been a history of university education being limited to students who can afford it. … We want to take the affording issue out of the equation," says Rosenbaum, who predicts that students will respond favorably. He points out that this offer will allow disadvantaged students, who often have very strong ties to their homes and are often needed by their families, to stay close to home while attending a top university.
Rosenbaum also praises the transparency of the program when it comes to the financial details. He says, "This will make it crystal clear, and by doing so will overcome doubts, concerns and apprehensions." According to Rosenbaum, the program addresses two problems for disadvantaged Evanston and Chicago students considering Northwestern: both "coming up with the money and understanding what one is getting into."
In some ways the program complements Rosenbaum's current research in Chicago Public Schools. He has found that high school students have many misconceptions about affording college. "It's amazing what students believe — they just don't know," he notes, giving the example of students who believe they must be on the free lunch program to qualify for a Pell Grant. His study is examining how to overcome obstacles to college through "college coaching."
Lee, a professor learning sciences and African American studies, says of the new program: "We have not seen this targeted an approach to increasing diversity among our student population since the 1970s. There is no question in my mind that the intellectual and social life of the university will be enhanced by this initiative. In addition, the initiative opens up wonderful new possibilities of collaborations and outreach between Northwestern and schools in the area. It also speaks well for the vision of this president for an inclusive Northwestern community."
Martinez was pleased to provide a student voice on the task force, along with fellow SESP student Stephanie Arias and four other Northwestern students. "The committee was looking for the student perspective. Our experiences do matter," says Martinez. One of her suggestions was to reach out to student groups, such as the Latino group Allianza, in the effort to increase minority enrollment. "Students are the biggest ambassadors — the greatest way to attract students," she contends.
Support for Success
As an important component of the Good Neighbor, Great University program, Peterson emphasizes stepped-up psychological and academic support. She explains, "We want to be sure to give these students strong academic, social and personal support once they get to Northwestern. To meet the needs of these students, we will need to develop enhanced advising, new peer mentoring systems, and new programs and workshops to provide cognitive skills and academic support."
Peterson wants the students who come to Northwestern to feel included and successful. Martinez agrees with the importance of this "psychological side." She says, "I feel like that's the most important component — mentoring."
Martinez describes her own experiences at Northwestern to substantiate the value of mentoring and attention to psychological issues. "I'm the second youngest of 13 children in a family considered lower socioeconomic. I always felt I wasn't good enough to be part of the Northwestern community because there are so many wealthy students. That's where I could have felt more accepted," she says candidly.
In her first months at Northwestern, she says, "It was hard to talk about why you felt left out. It took a while to transition and to feel comfortable," she continues. An older SESP student, Janet Rocha (BS08), acted as her mentor and helped her to feel included. "I questioned if I belonged here freshman year. Then I got to know more people. … It grew on me," she says.
Her story has a happy ending: "I love Northwestern. I had a great experience here," declares Martinez, who now serves as president of Promote 360, the student organization dedicated to promoting the well-being of minority students.
In time, the Good Neighbor, Great University program may have a significant impact on other students and on Northwestern too. Schapiro says, "We can do a lot better in making the university more diverse. We can take advantage of our location more than we have. We can do more for all of our students."