By Ken A. Epstein
“Congratulations!” The brochure says. “You’re going to college!”
This is the welcoming document received by 200 Oakland and West Contra Costa County ninth-graders who already have been accepted into Holy Names University’s new Early Admit Program.
When they and their parents sign the contract, the students are pledging to maintain a GPA of 2.7 throughout high schooland complete the standard college preparatory curriculum (called the A-G academic requirements).
Students are not required to take the SAT or ACT exam.
In exchange, Holy Names University, at 3500 Mountain Blvd. in Oakland, guarantees admission and a $9,000 scholarship. However, students are not bound by the early commitment. They can decide in their senior year whether to attend Holy Names or another university.
“Over 200 students have signed up in the first three months – we’ll feel very accomplished if we reach 500 this first year,” said Dr. William Hynes, President of Holy Names, who initiated the Early Admit Program.
“As the program grows, as its reputation spreads, high school counselors are betting the kids will do better in school, ” he said. “This program incentivizes preparation for college.”
As part of the program, which started in August, Holy Names provides information nights at the schools so students can plan for college and links each student with a college mentor who provides tutoring and other academic support. Students also will receive help writing their admissions essay and with filling out their FAFSA financial aid application.
The Early Admit Program fills a crucial need because it responds to students’ worries about their futures, says Marilyn Harryman, a retired head counselor who worked in Oakland schools for 33 years.
“Two of the biggest fears that kids have are: Am I smart enough to go to college? And how can I pay for it?” said Harryman, who recently featured the Holy Names program on her show, Counselor Community Connection, on KDOL TV, Cable 27.
“I think it’s a great idea to connect with kids as early as you can. It offers a great incentive,” she said. “I think Holy Names has made a very smart move.”
The program, still in it beginning stages, is open to ninth-graders at most of the high schools in the Oakland Unified School District including Castlemont, Fremont, Life Academy, McClymonds, Oakland High, Oakland Technical, Skyline and Street Academy. It is also open to East Bay Catholic schools and those in West Contra Costa Unified, including El Cerrito High, Gompers, Hercules High, John F. Kennedy, Richmond High and Pinole Valley.
“This is a bottom-up, not a top-down program,” said Hynes. “This was not something what was envisioned and promulgated by superintendents, though we do have superintendents very much in the loop. This (program) arises from the perceptions of counselors and (school site) administrators, as well our admissions people.”
Holy Names is able to pay for the costs of this program because most of the expenses are essentially a repackaging and redirecting of the kinds of student support that is already available at the university. “At the undergraduate level, we discount an average 50 percent level on every freshman who comes here,” Hynes said. “We are giving them financial aid to cover half the tuition costs.”
“This is an important opportunity for students and a major step for Holy Names,” said Dr. Kimberly Mayfield, chair of the Education Department at Holy Names. “We believe this will encourage many more students in our community to attend a university.”
One of the ninth-graders who is taking advantage of the early admissions offer is Skyline High student Manuel Lopez, son of Juan Lopez-Rivera, a media technician at Oakland Unified.
“It’s nice to know he is going to be admitted to college, whatever happens,” said Lopez-Rivera. “ He’s in the process of submitting a letter (contract). We didn’t expect this. We’re very happy.”
For more information on the Early Admit Program, call Tammy Dain, Holy Names Community Relations Manager, at (510) 436-1368 or email firstname.lastname@example.org