Wallin Education Partners awarded college scholarships to 216 low-income high school students in 2017. Every student had at least a 3.0 grade point average. “They have the academic firepower to get through college,” says Susan Basil King, executive director of Wallin Education Partners. But those outcomes don’t always pan out, a vexing problem for nonprofits looking to pave a path to educational achievement. “What takes a kid off track is not that the classes are too hard,” King says. “It can be social anxiety, cultural differences or feeling lost in the crowd.”
Many of the scholarship winners are first-generation college students and need help navigating the college experience.
So Wallin offers a built-in support system. Each Wallin scholar is assigned an adviser who meets with the student four to eight times a year to give them guidance and support. Once students are selected for a scholarship in their senior year of high school, they start working with advisers in April. Contact continues during the summer, and advisers help the students get ready for freshman orientation. There are check-ins during Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks. Advisers often visit students on campus during the semester.
“You are bringing in all these touch points,” King says. “It’s why our graduation rate is so high.” A 2017 report shows that 92 percent of Wallin scholars who started college in 2009 finished their four-year degrees within six years. In contrast, 63 percent of Minnesota students earned their four-year degrees in that time frame; the national figure was 60 percent.
Each Wallin scholar is awarded $23,000, with $16,000 of it paid to the student’s college. The remaining $7,000 goes to the student support program. Wallin scholars also take part in career fairs, mentoring, internships and financial literacy classes.
The late Pillsbury and Medtronic executive Win Wallin launched a scholarship program in 1992, starting with students at South High School in Minneapolis. Wallin Education Partners has grown into a nonprofit with an annual budget exceeding $3 million. About 27 percent of its expenses in 2017 were for the scholar support program.
Wallin’s 2017 scholars came from 39 Minnesota high schools. For the 2018 scholarship round, King says they’ve raised enough money to support 272 scholars. “The data is so compelling, and the need is so clear,” King says. “Donors are thinking this is a pretty good way to invest.”
Wallin Education Partners provides advising and other support services to help low-income students obtain their four-year degrees. Within a six-year period, Wallin scholars complete their degrees at a much higher rate than other Minnesota and U.S. students.