D.M. Therrell High School students visiting the University of Kentucky .
D.M. Therrell High School students visiting the University of Kentucky .

By Clare S. Richie

Achieve Atlanta will award approximately 900 need-based scholarships this spring to eligible Atlanta Pubic School (APS) high school senior applicants. Recipients will receive up to $5,000 per year for a 4-year institution or up to $1,500 per year for a 2-year college or technical school. Scholarships are renewable for student recipients who remain in good academic standing.

“Our vision is to have every student in APS complete post-secondary education and attain the full benefits that higher education provides,” shared Tina Fernandez, Achieve Atlanta Executive Director. “When paired with other financial aid, these scholarships are intended to greatly reduce the need for families to get high interest private loans,” Fernandez added.

Recent data shows that only 1 in 5 APS high school graduates completes a post-secondary degree of any kind. Yet by 2020, 60% of the jobs in Georgia will require some form of post-secondary degree.

Need-based scholarships are a key part of Achieve Atlanta’s strategy to tear down the barriers that prevent students, especially those who are the first in their families to go on to higher education, from completing a degree or credential after high school,

Achieve Atlanta is a supporting organization of The Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta, and is currently funded through a generous grant from the Joseph B. Whitehead Foundation.

This organization invests in strategies that combine financial assistance with academic and social supports to increase postsecondary access, retention, and completion.

Since Achieve Atlanta’s launch in July 2015, there are 30 additional mentoring adults serving all APS high schools thanks to a partnership with the College Advising Corps and Hands on Atlanta/AmeriCorps. Prior to this effort, it is estimated that for every 400 APS high school students there was one counselor.

College Advising Corps mentors work with 11th and 12th graders on the “nuts and bolts” of going to college, such as ACT/SAT test prep, applications, applying for scholarships, and more. For 9th and 10th graders, Hands on Atlanta/AmeriCorps mentors work on building awareness and a “college-going mindset”. For example, 9th graders hear about the importance of a good GPA and the possibilities for financing college.

Achieve Atlanta’s 9th and 10th grade College Access Coach Ms. Trudy Nelson with one of her 9th grade students. Ms. Nelson’s school site is Maynard H. Jackson High School.

Achieve Atlanta understands that while high school advising and scholarships will help more APS students access post-secondary education, it is not enough to get them over the finish line. Less than half of APS students who enroll in college, graduate within 6 years. In fact, the majority drops out between their freshman and sophomore year.

First generation college goers need support while in college, both academic and social/emotional. That’s why Achieve Atlanta is also designing a student advisory model with partner post-secondary institutions.

By working with partners to conduct high school and post-secondary advising, Achieve Atlanta can direct the majority of its $20 million seed money from the Joseph B. Whitehead Foundation toward its need-based scholarships.

Starting in early March, APS seniors will be able to apply for the Achieve Atlanta Scholarship. Eligibility requirements include enrollment and graduation from an APS high school and minimum standards related to GPA, financial need, and post-secondary enrollment.

“We launched the scholarship program because we believe our students deserve a fair chance to achieve their dreams,” Fernandez said. “This is a life changer for a lot of our students.”

Full details are available at achieveatlanta.org.

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.