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Investing in the Power of YOU is good for students and the state

In January of 2006, Minneapolis Community & Technical College (MCTC), Saint Paul College and Metropolitan State University launched the Power of YOU, an innovative program to increase college participation among students of color and low-income students. The results have been dramatic. In its first year, the program doubled the number of high-school students going to college at MCTC and Saint Paul College. Of students enrolled in the Power of YOU that year, the median household income was less than $30,000 and 76 percent were students of color.

These statistics demonstrate that the Power of YOU is a success. If the Legislature acts this year, policymakers have the opportunity to use a portion of the State Grant surplus to provide permanent funding to sustain the Power of YOU — and expand its reach to include other communities throughout the state. This legislation recommends using $4 million of the $15 million State Grant surplus for this proven program, which has already reached hundreds of low-income students and students of color.

The Power of YOU program was created in response to a growing awareness among business and civic leaders that we have a serious gap in educational attainment — a gap that costs the Minnesota economy $1.4 billion each year, according to the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education.

In late 2004, the Citizens League released a report predicting that of 100 ninth-graders in school that year only 3 percent of African-American and American Indian students and 5 percent of Latino students would earn a bachelor’s degree in Minnesota by the time they were 25. This report was followed by a report from the Itasca Project, expressing the same concerns about racial disparities. Both reports were a call for action, urging Minnesota to move swiftly to reverse these disturbing patterns.

First two years of college are free
Our three institutions knew that continuing the status quo wasn’t going to produce different results. We believed that if we could overcome the real and perceived financial barriers to attending college we could increase college participation and graduation rates among low-income students and students of color. So, we took a risk and proposed a new solution for this serious problem: We proposed providing new high-school graduates with the first two years of college, tuition free!

Many people were skeptical, but we persisted and were able to convince many of Minnesota’s most successful business people that the Power of YOU was a worthwhile investment. To date, we have raised nearly $4 million to test whether a promise of two years of college, tuition free, would change this disturbing trend.

The evidence is clear and convincing. The Power of YOU has produced dramatic results, especially when you consider that more than half of the high-school graduates in Minneapolis and St. Paul do not enroll in post-secondary education immediately after graduation.

According to an independent evaluation by Wilder Research, in the first year of the program we doubled the number of recent high-school graduates who enrolled in our colleges without having a negative effect on enrollment at other Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) institutions, which saw a net increase in the number of Minneapolis and St. Paul public school graduates that year.

63 percent returned after one year
Of the 357 students who were admitted to the Power of YOU:

• 76 percent were students of color — that’s more than 270 students.

• The median household income of the group was less than $30,000.

• The fall-to-fall retention was 63 percent, compared with 38 percent for our traditional cohort, a 66 percent increase in persistence.

• 80 percent said the Power of You significantly influenced their decision to attend college.

• A full 30 percent said they would not have attended college at all if not for the Power of YOU. (That’s 107 students and 81 students of color who would not have gone to college if not for the program).

We will admit our last cohort of Power of YOU students this fall unless we have a new source of funding. We believe the proposed legislation is a balanced strategy that will help resolve the achievement gap.  Simply put, the Power of YOU has proven that it can achieve results and we ask you to invest in a program that is working. 

Phillip Davis is the president of Minneapolis Community and Technical College (MCTC), the most ethnically diverse college in Minnesota. A member of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System, MCTC enrolls more than 11,000 students annually and is an active partner in initiatives to strengthen the social, economic and cultural vitality of the Twin Cities metropolitan area.

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