Federal

Head of College-Access Program Gets ‘Genius Grant’

By Scott J. Cech — September 25, 2007 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Deborah Bial, the founder of the Posse Foundation, which aims to increase student diversity at selective U.S. colleges, has been named one of this year’s 24 MacArthur Fellows by the Chicago-based John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

The so-called “genius grant” amounts to a no-strings-attached award of $500,000 over five years.

“It feels so mind-boggling to be honored with that,” said Ms. Bial, who also serves as the president of the New York City-based foundation.

Deborah Bial, president and founder of the Posse Foundation at her New York office on Sept. 20.

She said she needs to take some time to decide what she’ll do with the money, but she said she “definitely” plans to stay on at the Posse Foundation, continuing to extend its reach.

Ms. Bial founded the 18-year-old organization, named after the 1980s slang term for a close-knit group of friends, after talking with high-achieving minority students who had dropped out of college despite receiving scholarships. Using donor funding, the nonprofit foundation identifies and recruits urban public high school students who might otherwise be passed over by the traditional college-admissions process, but who are natural leaders.

After sifting through thousands of 17-year-old nominees, Posse and its 28 partner colleges and universities, which offer the chosen students full scholarships, together decide on multicultural cadres of about 10 students per college, then give them eight weeks of intensive precollegiate training in leadership and academics. The idea is that the students will bond and serve as a support system for one another throughout college.

‘Something Special’

So far, drawing from schools in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City, and Washington, Posse has placed 1,850 students at such universities as Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio; Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn.; and Bryn Mawr College in Bryn Mawr, Pa., and secured them more than $175 million in scholarships. The college graduation rate for Posse scholars, Ms. Bial said, is more than 90 percent.

Daniel J. Socolow, the director of the MacArthur Fellows Program, said that by placing no restrictions on how recipients spend their awards, “We’re betting on them. Not for what they have done, but what we believe they will do.”

He said it is the policy of the MacArthur Foundation not to discuss why individuals are chosen. But he noted that of the thousands of nominees submitted by the hundreds of anonymous nominators the foundation appoints, “These are clearly the most creative people we have looked at this year.”

Ms. Bial had a guess as to why she was selected, however.

“I think there’s something special about Posse that they recognized,” she said. “There are a lot of college-access programs, but Posse is a program that dreams big.” By diversifying the student bodies of top institutions, she added, the foundation is propelling talented students of nontraditional backgrounds toward future leadership roles.

By 2020, Ms. Bial said, Posse hopes to partner with 80 to 100 colleges and universities, drawing from 10 cities and sending 1,000 students per year to college, instead of the current 350. By then, she hopes to have 7,000 Posse alumni in the workforce.

“We’re living in a society that’s changing demographically very quickly, yet you look at the most selective colleges, and you don’t see the diversity of the United States reflected in the student body,” Ms. Bial said. “If that doesn’t change, we’re going to continue to graduate a very homogeneous group, and the leadership of the Unites States will continue to be homogeneous. We think we have a chance to change that a little bit.”

Events

Student Well-Being Webinar After-School Learning Top Priority: Academics or Fun?
Join our expert panel to discuss how after-school programs and schools can work together to help students recover from pandemic-related learning loss.
Budget & Finance Webinar Leverage New Funding Sources with Data-Informed Practices
Address the whole child using data-informed practices, gain valuable insights, and learn strategies that can benefit your district.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Classroom Technology Webinar
ChatGPT & Education: 8 Ways AI Improves Student Outcomes
Revolutionize student success! Don't miss our expert-led webinar demonstrating practical ways AI tools will elevate learning experiences.
Content provided by Inzata

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Federal Ron DeSantis Is Running for President. What Will That Mean for K-12 Schools?
DeSantis has solidified himself as a force on school policy. His campaign will likely influence the role education plays in the election.
6 min read
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during convocation at Liberty University, in Lynchburg, Va., on April 14, 2023.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during convocation at Liberty University, in Lynchburg, Va., on April 14, 2023.
Paige Dingler/The News & Advance via AP
Federal Cardona Defends Biden's Education Budget and Proposals on Student Debt and Trans Athletes
House Republicans accused Education Secretary Miguel Cardona of indoctrinating students and causing drops in test scores.
4 min read
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona speaks during a ceremony honoring the Council of Chief State School Officers' 2023 Teachers of the Year in the Rose Garden of the White House on April 24, 2023, in Washington.
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona speaks during a ceremony honoring the 2023 Teachers of the Year at the White House on April 24, 2023. He appeared before a U.S. House committee May 16, 2023, to defend the Biden administration's proposed education budget and other policies.
Andrew Harnik/AP
Federal Book Bans and Divisive Concepts Laws Will Hold U.S. Students Back, Secretary Cardona Says
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona participated in a summit this week that drew international education leaders to the nation's capital.
6 min read
Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona answers questions during an interview in his office in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, August 23, 2022.
Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona answers questions during an interview in his office in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, August 23, 2022.
Alyssa Schukar for Education Week
Federal Opinion The Lies America Tells Itself About Black Education
'A Nation at Risk' created a faux crisis to usher in the right's education agenda, argues Bettina L. Love.
4 min read
President Ronald Reagan is flanked by Education Secretary Terrel Bell, left, White House Policy director, during a meeting in the Cabinet Room in Washington, Feb. 23, 1984 where they discussed school discipline.
President Ronald Reagan and U.S. Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell, left, during a meeting in the Cabinet Room, Feb. 23, 1984, where they discussed school discipline.
AP