Program Aims to Get Urban Poor Into College

Helping kids from one of the nation's poorest cities make it to college is the goal of a new $10 million program that organizers hope will become a national model for fighting urban poverty.

Alvernia University in Reading, Pa., is partnering with city's Olivet Boys & Girls Club on a program that aims to help hundreds of high school students get ready for college through an intensive four-year program of tutoring, mentoring and other activities. Additionally, as many as 20 students a year will get full scholarships to attend Alvernia, where they'll receive additional tutoring and mentoring.

A college education is one way to break the “generational cycle of poverty” that grips Reading and other cities, said Thomas F. Flynn, president of the small Catholic university.

“This is an enormously ambitious undertaking, and we recognize that,” he said. “But we believe the potential to change lives is very great.”

About 88,000 people live in Reading, 60 miles northwest of Philadelphia. As recently as 2011, 40 percent of the population lived in poverty -- the highest share of any city in the nation with a population of at least 65,000. The poverty rate has decreased slightly since then.

Just over 60 percent of Reading's youths graduate high school, and those who do often have low SAT scores and trouble with reading, math and writing, according to Alvernia.

Enter the Reading Collegiate Scholars Program, to be offered at Boys & Girls Club locations around the city beginning this spring. Any member of Olivet can participate.

The program will help students improve their academic skills, navigate the college application and financial aid progress, and overcome other barriers to higher education.

“Some students struggle with issues that are beyond their control and might need some extra help to be competitive to go to college,” said Jay Worrall, director of Alvernia's Holleran Center for Community Engagement, an outreach program that will oversee the Collegiate Scholars Program.

The program will be funded by private donors, foundations and Alvernia and Olivet. It launches in the spring.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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