After Evelyn De La Rosa gave birth to her daughter last summer, she knew she didn’t want to let motherhood stunt her academic goals. For the next year, De La Rosa told herself she would say yes to any opportunity that came her way.
Already excelling at LaGuardia Community College in Queens, N.Y., De La Rosa, 27, soon received an e-mail saying she was nominated to join the “Transfer Scholars Network,” a new program meant to connect standout community college students with admissions officials at selective colleges.
If it weren’t for the promise she made to herself, De La Rosa might have just ignored the nomination, she said. But she’s glad she didn’t.
Today, De La Rosa is wrapping up her first semester as an undergraduate transfer student studying electrical engineering and computer science at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
“MIT wasn’t on the market for me before the Transfer Scholars Network,” De La Rosa said. “I wouldn’t have applied because I would have thought that it was out of reach.”
Through the program, De La Rosa spoke to a “really reassuring” representative at the competitive university, who helped her see the school as a good fit and supported her through the application process.
Following an 18-month pilot, the Transfer Scholars Network was officially launched in early November by the Aspen Institute College Excellence Program, which aims to advance higher education practices and leadership to benefit students of color and low-income students, according to its website, with the support of the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation.
Students nominated by their community college excel academically, have leadership experience, represent diverse socioeconomic backgrounds, and positively impact their community, Tania LaViolet, director of the Aspen Institute College Excellence Program, told the Globe. After a student accepts their nomination, the network connects them to an admissions official at a partner institution they’re interested in to help the scholar develop a personal relationship with the school and navigate the oftentimes mystifying transfer application process with ease. Students also learn about financial aid options, so that high costs don’t keep them from applying to highly selective schools.
“There is incredible talent within community colleges, including high-achieving students who should, based on their merits, have access and opportunity to take advantage of all that the leading colleges have to offer,” LaViolet said in a press release. “We cannot have true equity in higher education if there is not a path for students across the nation to transfer from community colleges to highly selective institutions.”
Since January 2021, 14 four-year institutions in the American Talent Initiative — a collective of leading colleges and universities aiming to expand “opportunity and access for highly talented lower-income students,” according to its website — and eight “highly successful” community colleges participated in the pilot Transfer Scholars Network, opening the door to selective institutions for students like De La Rosa.
Amherst College, Mount Holyoke College, Smith College, and Williams College are the other Massachusetts institutions in the network.
After two phases of the pilot, the transfer program has engaged 372 students from eight community colleges, according to a press release, the “overwhelming majority” of whom have a GPA of 3.5 or higher and are from lower-income backgrounds or communities of color. After its first full admissions cycle in spring 2022, at least 20 percent of Transfer Scholars who applied to four-year partner colleges received offers of admission, outpacing the average admission rate of 15.6 percent at these schools, the press release said.
“The Transfer Scholar Network helps us shine a light on students that might be a great fit for our transfer program because we get to see that they’re not only really strong academic candidates, but they’re a great fit for our community,” Jeremy Weprich, senior assistant director of admissions at MIT, told the Globe.
Stu Schmill, dean of admissions and financial services at MIT, said the Transfer Scholars Network is a way for the school to be “an engine of opportunity” for a diverse body of talented students.
“We want to be as accessible as we can,” Schmill said. “The education is better for our students the more diverse the population is. We want to educate the best students from everywhere, from all backgrounds.”
LaViolet said the need for the Transfer Scholars Network materialized after a 2018 report titled “The Talent Blind Spot” revealed that every year, “more than 50,000 high-achieving, low- and moderate-income community college students do not transfer to a four-year institution,” meaning skilled students are missing out on opportunities they deserve, LaViolet said.
“There was immense talent in community colleges and we were able to quantify that,” said LaViolet, an author of the 2018 report. “This needed to happen.”
A key component of the Transfer Scholars Network is connecting students to institutions equipped to offer generous financial aid packages, LaViolet said, especially since 71 percent of Transfer Scholars are from communities of color, and 74 percent come from households with incomes less than $50,000, according to the network’s website.
Going forward, LaViolet said she hopes the network will partner with more community colleges and four-year institutions across the nation. The next phase of the program will also include increased commitments to full affordability and financial aid for students, feature more partner-led workshops, and provide additional webinars and transfer resources for both students and institutions, a press release stated.
“The vision for the Transfer Scholars Network is to contribute to a future where any community college student across the nation can see just how far their talents can lead them,” LaViolet said.