Do these students really need help? Aren’t they going to be fine without additional support?

If the goal is just to get them to graduate, they will generally be fine. Many of the students Noonan supports will graduate from college with or without Noonan Scholars. We graduate over 90% of our students, while approximately 80% of students fitting our profile would graduate without our program- a 20% increase. While that is not an order of magnitude difference, when only 4 out of the top 5 urban high school students earn their college degree, that is too low to declare mission accomplished.

For this group of students, graduation should not be the goal. These Scholars are in the best position to have meaningful careers as leaders in the most prominent business and civic institutions in the city and region. Yet for many, that does not happen.

Less than 1 in 2 attend a college that is as selective as one they can get into, often graduating with more debt and with lower career earnings potential than they should. Less than 1 in 4 who want to major in STEM or other rigorous majors are able to graduate in that major. Instead, these students enter college with inadequate math and writing skills, struggle academically during their first year, and are counseled to switch to less rigorous majors. Our goal for our Scholars is to achieve success in the career of their dreams, and that includes graduating with the degree, skills and experiences they need for that role. Our Scholars are talented, ambitious, and passionate. Their aspirations should not be derailed by a lack of academic preparation.

Not providing this group of students the supports they need to have these careers, supports available to students from affluent families and well-resourced schools, is not an option.

For more on this question, please see the Need and Our Impact pages. And for more information on the unique ways we support our students, please see the College Access & Prep and College to Career pages.

Is there anything unique about Noonan’s approach? How is it different from other college access and success organizations?

There are a few ways to look at this questions- by vision and program:

A Unique Vision: The focus of college success non-profits in Boston has been on college persistence and graduation. At Noonan Scholars, we focus instead on the degree, skills, and experiences our students graduate with, not just that they graduate. Our top low-income students of color are currently under-achieving in the college game. They earn a degree, but not from the right school, in the right major, with the right grades and the right professional experience for the competitive and leadership careers they seek. They need a set of supports that will set them up for success when they graduate from college, and our programming is designed to ensure those results.

Program Elements: There are a few elements of our programming that most other non-profits do not offer. They include:

  • Pre-College Academic Prep: Less than 1 in 4 low-income students of color at the most selective schools who want to major in STEM or other rigorous majors are able to graduate in that major. Instead, students frequently enter college with inadequate math and writing skills, struggle in their first year, and are counseled to switch to less rigorous majors. To combat this trend, we created our Summer Academy. It is an intensive academic program on a college campus that provides high school juniors and seniors with 210+ hours of instruction in college-level writing and math, taught by college professors. It is a prime reason our Scholars are able to receive good grades and persist and graduate in rigorous majors, and is not part of any other college access and success program.
  • Professional Mentors: First-generation, low-income students often lack professional role models in their family and community, knowing few people who attended a four-year college or who hold jobs in degree-dependent careers. Such professionals provide critical guidance and help students gain access to networks and opportunities that lead to jobs positioned for growth within competitive fields. Noonan pairs each Scholar with a mentor who is the first person in the Scholar’s network, provides guidance and one-on-one support, serves as a role model, and exposes the student to different career paths.
  • Holistic approach: While many programs offer certain elements of our program- such as mentoring, high school academic prep, college advising, scholarships, SAT Prep, college academic support, career and internship support- Noonan is unique in that it provides all of these supports. Noonan starts with Scholars as juniors in high school, and provides the resources and opportunities they need through college graduation, until they find their first job or are accepted into graduate school.

Does Boston really need Noonan Scholars? Aren’t there organizations already supporting the same students you work with?

Boston is home to multiple college access and success organizations committed to improving college outcomes for Boston youth. Within this field, other than Posse, none support Boston’s high-performing low-income students of color in college, and none provide the intensive academic support of Noonan’s Summer Academy.

An Issue of Selectivity
The largest organization in this space is Bottom Line. In sharp contrast to Noonan’s program, Bottom Line’s college support program focuses on students who are at-risk of not going to or graduating from college. As a result, they only support students who go to one of 25 “commonly-attended regional colleges,” primarily including community, public, and mid-tier private colleges. While they do a fantastic job supporting these students, if high-achieving Boston students gain admission to schools like Harvard, Tufts, or Smith, or any school out of state, Bottom Line does not support them in college.

A Gap at the Top
Posse Boston serves higher achieving students who are more similar to Noonan Scholars, and has very impressive results, but their reach is limited. Each year they support just 60 students from the Greater Boston area who are required to attend one of six partner colleges – Bryn Mawr, Bucknell, Centre, Denison, Hamilton, and Union – where they receive on-going support as part of a ten-person “posse.” By contrast, Noonan Scholars plans to support hundreds of Scholars each year, and they are encouraged to apply to and enroll in any good-fit “selective college” offering strong financial aid.

A Consensus in the Field
In fact, those closest to this work – the former Executive Director of Bottom Line, the CEO of uAspire, and the former Program Director from Posse Boston – are all deeply involved in Noonan Scholars’ work because they recognize the large number of unserved, yet deserving low-income students of color, and the strength of our model to support them. The former sits on Noonan’s board of directors, and the latter two on its advisory board.

The question then of whether Boston needs Noonan Scholars does not boil down to the number of non-profits that exist, but rather whether there are students from this area who need support but are not getting it from Bottom Line, Posse, or other non-profits. The easy answer is YES.

For more on this question, please see the History and Mission page.