A few days ago, GCP attended the Sponsors for Educational Opportunity (SEO) 2012 Annual Awards Dinner in New York City. Founded in 1963, SEO began as a privately funded mentoring program designed to help underserved high school students get accepted to college. In 2005, SEO determined that more than mentoring was needed to ensure that students would not only gain admission to college but be academically prepared to thrive there. They designed a four-year after school and Saturday curriculum which students begin in the 9th grade and continue throughout high school. These students get college admissions and financial aid guidance as they near the end of high school, and continue to receive academic, social and emotional support until they graduate from college. Over 1,000 high school freshmen applied last year for one of about 120 spots in the SEO Scholars program. Once in, all expenses, including books and transit fare, are covered by the program.

Rather than focus on advancing the very high achievers or rescuing the very low achievers, SEO targets the students in the middle of the pack. SEO President William Goodloe explained in a recent USA Today article about SEO found here: “the ones in the middle, who just attend school every day…they’re completely neglected. That’s who we serve; the ones who people think are going to be OK, but they’re really not going to be OK”. Last year SEO sent 100% of their SEO Scholars to four-year colleges.

An independent research organization recently concluded that the SEO Scholars Program is closing the achievement gap by enabling their scholars to get better grades and higher SAT scores in high school, and get into better colleges. (“Preparing for College Success: Evaluation of the Educational Impact of the SEO Scholars Program”, a report prepared by Policy Studies Associates.) This is quite impressive, but as the SEO leaders lamented that evening, since their resources limit them to help only 120 out of the 1000 who apply each year, they are reaching precious few of the many students who need their help.

Most impressive that evening were the group of graduating SEO scholars who stood on stage and talked about how the program had changed their lives. Each one talked about the importance of giving back to their families and community in recognition of having been given so much through the program. So inspiring to see what a difference an educational opportunity can make.

SEO sponsors additional programs such as SEO Career, which recruits, trains and mentors college students of color and places them in internships in banking, corporate finance, and corporate law, and SEO ALternative Investments, which trains and mentors young professionals in the alternative investments sector. You can learn more about all of SEO’s good work at its website, www.seo-usa.org.