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Two college graduates

Grit and opportunity: A recipe for student success

Janet Mountain

There are times when incremental improvement is all you can hope for.  But there are other times when life really can transform, and the right action can give children and families the chance to chart a new trajectory.

At the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, we work to accelerate human opportunity. Often that means rallying around people at critical times in their lives, so they can chart their own futures. An abundance of research and years of firsthand experience make it clear that higher education is one of those times.

Everyone pursuing a degree in higher education needs support—in some form—to make it to graduation. I certainly leaned on friends, family and faculty at different times, seeking advice and encouragement. Support is even more necessary for low-income, first-generation college and university students, who start at a disadvantage from the outset. Their likelihood of earning a degree depends on a combination of factors, including their own resolve and the opportunities, resources, and support they are given along the way.

From the outset of our work at the foundation, we knew that an acceptance into college or university was an enormous milestone for most underserved students—but we also recognized that graduating with degrees was even more important. Because a university degree leads to immense dividends — not just for graduates, but for their families, communities and their national economies. And we’ve learned that, for students to succeed, we need to walk alongside and support them through the whole journey.

And so, the Dell Scholars Program in the United States and the Dell Young Leaders program in South Africa were born. To this day, we fundamentally believe that everyone should have an opportunity to earn a degree. Both programs support students all the way to college or university graduation—no matter what financial, academic, emotional or situational support they need.

The data speaks for itself: 78 percent of Dell Scholars graduate with a bachelor’s degree within six years, compared to the national average of about 20 percent for similar students. And 100 percent of our Dell Young Leaders in South Africa leave university for a professional position or continued studies, in an environment where youth unemployment is over 50%.

For every student we support, we remain focused on the singular goal of giving them what they need to set their own course, on their terms.

We’ve found that hardships create inspiring strength of character. Our students’ remarkable stories are full of struggle, but their grit is mightier than any trials they’ve faced. For every student we support, we remain focused on the singular goal of giving them what they need to set their own course, on their terms.

Throughout our years of experience with the Dell Scholars and Dell Young Leaders programs, it’s the stories of the students, their strength of will, their commitment to purpose and their tireless work that sustain and inspire us. Their successes drive us to continue and build on our work. See for yourself and be inspired.