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Two college students walking and talking on campus

Supporting students to college and career in the heart of Texas

Virginia Potter

My passion for education stems from my years as a high school teacher in Austin, TX. I met so many students who would work hard in high school with the goal of going to college. They were ready to study hard, earn their degrees, and launch a dream career. And while many students do achieve the dream, the sad reality is that many – too many – don’t.

For the sake of easy math, let’s imagine I taught 100 students in a class from families with low incomes. I knew that 88 of my students would never get a college degree. 88. Out of 100.

The statistics are startling. If we follow the line from the number of people who never earn a certificate, associate or bachelor’s degree all the way through to the realities faced by the 150,000 families and individuals living on low incomes in Austin, we can see the whole story: fewer people are getting the credentials and education they need to get and keep quality jobs that can move families out of poverty.

Barriers to success show up in all forms. First-generation college students often leave school because they need to support their families financially. High school seniors need support in college course selection and completion so they don’t give up on the process before they ever get on campus. Students may start college, and then stop to go to work, or start a family. In response to this reality, we must create and provide flexible pathways to degrees, so that students who don’t travel on a straight road through college have a way to turn back to the classroom when they can.

One example of this work is our partnership with local colleges and universities that are working hard to build strong connections with high schools, with support from Austin’s nonprofit community organizations.

  • Together with Huston-Tillotson University, we are supporting the My Brother’s Keeper Scholars program to help nearly 1,000 young men in Central Texas enroll and complete college. Their work includes building strong relationships with leaders from the Austin, Elgin, Pflugerville, and Manor school districts so that students throughout the region can take advantage of a direct pathway from high school to college.
  • We are working with Austin Community College (ACC) to help more students earn an associate’s degree in a high-demand industry for our region, like healthcare, manufacturing, information technology, or skilled trades. At the same time, we’re helping ACC increase the number of students that are prepared to successfully transition to a four-year institution.
  • To support all this work, many of our nonprofit partners continue to provide the coaching, high school and college counseling, emergency funds, and other wraparound supports that we know are so critical to student success.

At the foundation, we focus on providing the right support at the right time by addressing the most immediate and prevalent problems facing families and individuals on their path out of poverty. We know we can’t solve every problem for every family, but with collaboration with the right partners, we can accelerate real progress for real people every day.