By Maria Saporta
Achieve Atlanta, the ambitious program to dramatically increase the number of Atlanta Public Schools students who graduate from college, announced a needs-based scholarship program on Monday.
The scholarship will provide up to $5,000 a year – renewable for up to four years – as an incentive to help APS students receive a college degree.
The program was made possible through a $20 million seed grant from the Joseph B. Whitehead Foundation, one of the Robert W. Woodruff family of foundations.
“I’m really overwhelmed with emotion to see all of you here today,” said Tina Fernandez, executive director of Achieve Atlanta. “We have set a goal in the next 10 years. We are going to double the number of APS graduates to get a college degree.”
Currently 22 percent of APS graduates are projected to earn a post-secondary degree or credential, Fernandez said. The goal is to double that number in 10 years. Achieve Atlanta expects that about 900 students will receive the scholarship this year.
For students attending a two-year college degree or a technical program, the award is for up to $1,500 per year – renewable for two years.
It is expected that the scholarship will provide “last dollar” assistance. It would be combined with other sources of financial aid and reduce the need for students and families to take out high-interest loans.
APS students will be able to start applying for the Achieve Atlanta scholarships in early March. To be eligible, students will have to be graduating from an APS high school and achieve minimum standards related to GPA, financial aid and post-secondary enrollment.
“It is a gam changing day,” said APS Superintendent Meria Carstarphen. “It is a day when we can see the mission of the district come alive.”
As a way to demonstrate the potential outcome of the scholarship, Alimah Dawkins, a South Atlanta High School student, spoke of how the financial assistance would fill critical need for her desire to go to college. On behalf of all APS seniors who want a post-secondary education, she thanked every one who had played a part in launching the program.
Russ Hardin, president of the Whitehead Foundation, also was pleased.
“We are excited and pleased with the progress made in very short order,” he said in a brief interview after the announcement. “We hope that an incentive like this will help APS improve its college graduation rates. What could be better than us supporting 900 kids from Atlanta to go to college?”