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Airline Offers Cleveland Seniors Seats for College Trips

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With an eye to enhancing its public image in its newest hub city, financially troubled Continental Airlines has begun giving free round-trip tickets to talented but needy Cleveland high-school seniors so that they can visit a college campus of their choice.

The $100,000 "college opportunity flights" program, launched last month by the airline and believed to be the first of its kind, will also bring disadvantaged students from around the country to visit college campuses in northeastern Ohio, said Larry Martin, Cleveland vice president for Continental.

"Many talented, disadvantaged students are accepted with financial aid, but simply can't afford to visit what might be a perfect college for them," Mr. Martin said in a statement about the program, which is expected to become an annual effort.

Of the 200 tickets being donated by the airline, which is now in bankruptcy proceedings, 120 will be used by local students chosen by Scholarship-in-Escrow, a three-year-old philanthropic venture sponsored by Cleveland businesses. The program pays 7th to 12th graders in city public schools for good grades in academic courses, and retains the funds in an escrow account for the students to use if they graduate and go on to college.

The Cleveland Commission on Higher Education plans to use 40 tickets to bring students from as far away as Albuquerque and Miami to visit the University of Akron and eight small private colleges in the area.

Another 40 tickets will enable both prospective undergraduates as well as medical-school applicants to visit Cleveland's Case Western Reserve University.

A forerunner of the program began about two years ago with a handful of Continental tickets going to Case Western for disadvantaged prospective medical students, Mr. Martin said.

The new Continental program represents "an absolutely wonderful opportunity" for needy students to become informed college shoppers, said Rosie N. Doughty, executive director of Scholarship-in-Escrow. In the past, she said, some students who were accepted to colleges but could not afford a visit before enrolling ended up having "some very disappointing kinds of experiences."

"This gives some kids a chance to take a look beforehand and see what they're getting into," Ms. Doughty said.

So far, about 10 students have used the tickets being distributed by the escrow program, she said. Cam4pus visits have been made or are planned to such leading schools as Amherst College, Brown University, Cornell University, Morehouse College, and Wellesley College.

Joseph Grant, a senior at the Cleveland School of Science and a Scholarship-in-Escrow student, used his ticket to visit Brown, which accepted him last month.

"I'm really glad that a program like this has started," he said of the Continental offer. Mr. Grant said he did not even want to ask his parents about attending a Brown program for prospective students because he knew the estimated $300 to $500 airfare to the Providence, R.I., campus "would be a great strain."

Without the Brown visit, he probably would have attended Case Western Reserve, where he also was accepted. "The Continental trip just showed me that Brown has a little more to offer," Mr. Grant said.

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