June 18, 2003 2 min read

College Orientation

For many grade-schoolers, college planning is about as exciting and relevant a topic as Social Security, or male-pattern baldness. Getting into Dartmouth or Rutgers is one thing. Getting outside for that afternoon’s dodgeball match may seem like a much, much more important thing.

A new project, however, has set out to span the chasm between precollegiate life and postsecondary readiness.

The Foundation for Excellent Schools, a Cornwall, Vt.-based nonprofit group devoted to increasing student preparation and educational aspirations, won a $1 million grant last month to form partnerships between 100 colleges and universities and 100 K-12 schools. Under the initiative, students from elementary through high school will be given an introduction to the world of midterm exams, dorm living, and postgraduation debt.

Backed with the grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, of Battle Creek, Mich., the “Century Program” will work with colleges and school systems focusing primarily on low-income, rural, and underserved communities.

Participating colleges will be expected to provide academic support and counseling to at least 100 students at each of the schools. Working with school staff members, they will also offer mentoring on preparation for college and the benefits of a higher education. Those lessons are to include campus visits, explanations of financial-aid and admissions issues, and efforts to inform students about future careers.

For much of the project’s core audience, Western Civ. 101 is about a decade down the road. But a basic understanding of what college is about should begin early—as young as prekindergarten, says Rick Dalton, the president of the Foundation for Excellent Schools. The older the student, in middle or high school, he says, the more detailed the planning for postsecondary education.

Eventually, leaders of the organization hope, the Kellogg grant will bring financial support for the Century Program from other donors, such as corporations. By fall, the Foundation for Excellent Schools hopes to have set up projects in 20 precollegiate schools, along with their college partners. It wants to add 40 more schools a year in 2004 and 2005.

“You create a buzz,” Mr. Dalton said. “You create a culture. You create people in the school who are talking about college.”

Maybe the dodgeball match can wait.

For more information on the Century Program, see or call (802) 462-3170.

—Sean Cavanagh