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Deloitte’s RightStep Helps Kids Stay on the College Path

By Jim Witkin

This post was sponsored by Deloitte as a part of a larger editorial package. It went through our normal editorial review process. 

Countless studies have shown that individuals with a college degree will do much better financially over the course of their careers than those without. That’s good news for those who graduate college, especially as the degree will be required for the bulk of new jobs the U.S. economy will create in the coming years.

But it is mostly bad news for those from low-income families for whom college graduation rates remain low. Only 10 percent of those from the bottom income quartile (households with annual income less than $35,000) will complete a college degree by age 24, compared to 77 percent for those from the highest income quartile.

Given this disparity, young people from poorer families are likely to miss out on these opportunities and continue the cycle of poverty.

Closing this college-completion gap is the aim of Deloitte’s RightStep program, a set of initiatives based on the belief that more of these kids from low-income backgrounds could enter and finish college if only they were offered a guiding hand.

“Just given the dramatic impact that poverty has on students, the education component is really an area where if you apply certain resources, you can help these students stay on track from an academic, attendance and behavioral perspective. Then there’s no reason why they can’t succeed and go on to college,” according to Bill Copeland, who is a RightStep Education Champion and serves as a Deloitte LLP Vice Chairman.

Last year, RightStep reached more than 240,000 students across the U.S. by working with several innovative education-related nonprofits. Deloitte professionals volunteer as mentors, provide pro bono consulting, sit on a board, and sometimes contribute funding.

One such nonprofit is City Year, which places young Americorps volunteers in schools in low-income areas for a year. These volunteers work in the classroom alongside teachers to do specific interventions with at-risk students.

The goal is to “take kids that are dramatically off track and try to get them back on track,” said Copeland.

Deloitte serves as City Year’s National Strategy and Innovation Sponsor and provides pro-bono consulting to help build capacity for the organization, as well as support from Deloitte professionals for AmeriCorps members and staff through a mentorship program and career development workshops.

Strive for College is another organization that Deloitte supports. It provides an online college mentoring system that connects high school juniors and seniors with mentors who provide guidance through the college admissions and financial aid process. Students connect with mentors virtually through video chat, phone conversations, even text messaging.

Nearly 700 Deloitte professionals are now Strive volunteers. The program has had a dramatic impact on the students involved as over 90 percent of Strivers go on to four-year institutions, usually with low or no debt.

Deloitte also works with the Posse Foundation, an organization that identifies promising students from diverse urban backgrounds to become Posse Scholars. Students are selected based on personal qualities that can be overlooked by traditional college selection metrics, like standardized test scores. Instead, these kids are chosen for their strengths in other areas like leadership, motivation, teamwork, and communication skills.

Those selected for the scholarship form a team of ten, or a “posse,” and are provided with extra support to prepare them for college. Posse partner colleges and universities provide four-year, full-tuition scholarships.

“They are a big believer that everyone is capable of learning, so they look for talented students who maybe didn’t test well but have other strengths. They’ve learned that by making these students better leaders, they can be a very successful in college,” said Doug Marshall, managing director of Deloitte LLP’s Corporate Citizenship programs.

About 90 percent of Posse scholars complete a degree, an impressive achievement which even got a shout-out from former President Obama in an interview he gave on expanding college access for students from low-income backgrounds.

Posse now has chapters in ten U.S. cities. Deloitte professionals serve on the advisory board and staff the evaluation sessions where the students compete for a spot as a Posse Scholar. Deloitte also contributes funding and pro bono professional services.

Many Posse Scholars have gone on to work for Deloitte, and in total, Deloitte hires about 25 people a year who have been involved in one of the RightStep programs, according to Copeland.

Deloitte also kickstarted an innovative startup working on improving educational outcomes through its RightStep Innovation Prize. The prize awarded $100,000 in funding and $150,000 in pro bono consulting to help scale Reasoning Mind. This nonprofit has developed an interactive online math curriculum that allows students to work at their own pace to build basic math skills. Not only has the program improved scores on standardized math tests, but also improved students’ attitudes towards learning math, according to Reasoning Mind CEO Alex Khachatryan.

About 5,000 Deloitte professionals (out of 65,000 in the Deloitte U.S. firms) are now involved across the various RightStep initiatives. Marshall attributes this high level of engagement in part to their age, as a good portion of Deloitte’s workforce is hired right out of college.

Engaging in educational opportunities to give back is an important priority for professionals in this age range, according to Copeland, something Deloitte learned from its internal research.

“So, a big part of the business benefit for us is not only are we making an impact with students but we’re also engaging our people in a way that is important to them. They get an opportunity to work in this space and see directly the impact they have on students who are looking for support,” Marshall added.

Deloitte hopes to increase the number of its volunteers to the 10,000 range by introducing several new campaigns and making it easier for them to get involved.

As for the success of RightStep so far, it’s all down to “using our best asset which is our people,” concludes Copeland. “When you apply human capital, and add it where it really makes a difference with these students, attendance goes up, behavioral problems go down, and the kids’ confidence levels reach a point where they believe they can succeed. Then the impact is incredible.”

Image credit Deloitte


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Jim Witkin is a writer based in Silicon Valley and London focused on business, technology and the environment. His work has been featured in the New York Times and Guardian newspapers. He holds an MBA in Sustainable Management from the Presidio Graduate School.

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