Another Strategy for First-Generation College Success Exciting Funders: Peer Coaches

We've written a lot about the growing efforts aimed at helping first-generation college students access higher education and navigate the rough waters they often encounter as they work toward a degree. These students face difficulties that students with college-educated relatives often take for granted, and foundations are backing a range of strategies to help them get into college, cope on campusand graduate.

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Often, these students could use help from someone who understands the challenges they're facing. So, who better than someone who has been there recently?

That's where an organization called College Forward, or Cofo, comes in. Cofo specializes in providing near-peer coaching and other forms of support to students from grade 11 through college. These near-peer coaches, young men and women who recently graduated college, try to level the playing field for low-income and first-generation students by building trusting relationships, strengthening the students' motivations, and providing strategies designed to help them gain admission to college and successfully complete the path to a degree. Many of Cofo's peer coaches volunteer under the Americorps program.

Cofo, based in Austin, Texas, is a favorite organization of one of the city's largest funders, the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, which recently gave Cofo nearly $1.25 million to continue its work. Since 2009, Dell has awarded around $3 million to Cofo, starting with the funder's support of a Central Texas-focused program designed to improve college access opportunities for low-income students in Austin and surrounding areas.

So far, Cofo's efforts have shown promise. According to the organization's figures, 99 percent of the students it works with complete high school on time, and 90 percent enter college within a year of high school graduation. About 45 percent of the students earn a college degree. Cofo has made particular strides at improving college access for Hispanic students, so much that the national organization Excelencia in Education recently recognized Cofo as one of the top programs in the nation for increasing college access and opportunity for young Hispanic men and women.