In summer 2007, Elon University established the Elon Academy, an intensive college access program based on academic enrichment, leadership development and family involvement. The program serves academically promising Alamance-Burlington high school students with significant financial need and/or no family history of college, historically barriers to considering a college education. The mission of the Academy is to support these students (scholars) who are underrepresented on college and university campuses as they pursue higher education, build leadership skills, and develop an active sense of social responsibility. Our goal is to provide the support and resources needed to ensure that all of our Academy graduates obtain college degrees, take advantage of the rich experiences of college, and contribute to the intellectual and social climate of the university (and ultimately their communities) through their active
We have adopted a holistic youth development model that builds on the strengths the scholars and families bring to our work together. We know that with appropriate and comprehensive services, opportunities, and supports there is a college or university at which every talented young person can be successful regardless of financial status. We believe that access to information about college is essential, but that information alone is insufficient. We see it as our responsibility to provide experiences that will inspire our scholars to find their passion, find meaning in their lives, and imagine new futures for themselves and their families. To that end we have developed a four-phase program to partner with our scholars, our families, and our community to build trusting relationships over an extended period of time.
Phase I: College Access Program
The Elon Academy College Access Program is our original high school program. Each year a new cohort of about 25 ninth graders is selected to join the Academy. The year-round program combines three intensive 4-week residential experiences at Elon prior to the sophomore, junior, and senior years as well as a monthly Saturday Academy during the academic year. During the month-long residential summer program scholars choose from a variety of academic classes along with challenging curricular, co-curricular, and cultural experiences as well as leadership opportunities, service projects, and college planning and college visits. The residential component of the program mirrors college life, providing exposure to disciplines not typically found in the high school curriculum. All classes integrate reading, writing, speaking, and critical thinking skills and emphasize collaborative, organizational, study, and time management skills to increase potential for success in both high school and college. Elon University students live in the residence halls and serve as teaching assistants and mentors. University faculty and high school teachers teach classes. Local businesses provide paid internships for many of our scholars during the second half of the summer and during the school year.
The year-round program includes a monthly Saturday Academy that includes SAT preparation, college selection, essay writing, and college, grant, and scholarship information and guidance. Family involvement is crucial, therefore we offer parallel programs for family members on alternate Saturdays. During the academic year every sophomore and junior scholar is engaged in a year-long “Inquiry Project” (IP) of their choice that culminates in a presentation, performance, or product that is shared with a relevant, authentic audience.
Each year scholars are assigned to a College Access Team (CAT) Mentor (Elon University students who have been trained by our staff) who meets with them face-to-face and virtually to answer questions and provide support and encouragement between Saturday programs. We advise our scholars to take a rigorous high school curriculum including honors and AP classes. To ensure success we provide Elon University Academic Coaches (at no cost) on an as-needed basis. Counseling services and referrals to community agencies are available to both scholars and their families. Transportation for scholars and families is provided, on request, for all activities to remove any barriers to participation.
Phase II: Transitions to College Program
The Elon Academy Transitions to College Program, started summer 2010, supports graduating scholars’ transitions to college with an intensive three-day summer retreat, family workshop and celebration.
Phase III: College Success Program
The Elon Academy College Success Program, started fall 2010, is designed to ensure college completion for scholars once they enter college. In this phase of the program, Academy staff visit scholars on their campuses to provide scholars and families with academic, social, and mentoring/advising support, as well as assistance in securing additional financial aid.
Phase IV: Alumni Program
The Elon Academy Alumni Program started summer 2011, provides a network of support to Academy graduates and their families throughout their college years and beyond. Through the Peer Leader Program Academy alumni return to the campus and the community to inspire and support Elon Academy and other high school students who dream of a college education.
Currently the Academy serves 133 scholars (62 in college and 71 in high school) and approximately 350 family members. Our scholars, who are now freshmen, sophomore, and juniors in college, have been awarded more than $2 million in merit-based aid. Two of our graduates have been awarded Gates-Millennium Scholarships. Overall, 88% of scholars who begin the high school program remain in the program for the three years. Of those who complete the program 100% are accepted into college.
Over the past six years we have developed a more complex and nuanced understanding of challenges faced by limited-income, first-generation college students. We have also learned how powerful “near-peers” (students who are slightly older than their mentees and represent the high school and college students our scholars aspire to become) can be in supporting our scholars to ensure that their dreams of a college education are realized. In the Academy we have developed four year-round coaching/mentoring programs.
The Elon Academy Ambassadors Program (EEAP)
provides Academy high school scholars with opportunities to share their knowledge and motivate younger students to pursue postsecondary education. Our scholars, with the guidance of our staff, plan and implement activities for elementary and middle school students developing leadership, collaborative and presentation skills while inspiring the younger children.
College Access Team (CAT) Mentors and Senior College Access Team Mentors
are Elon University students. Each scholar is assigned to a CAT Mentor who is recruited, trained, and supervised by our staff. They meet with scholars regularly and submit detailed reports communicating academic, social, cultural, physical, and financial needs so that we can provide necessary resources or refer scholars and families to appropriate agencies. Our Senior CAT Mentors meet with high school seniors and focus on the college and scholarship application process.
Through the Academic Coaching Program
our staff recruits and trains university students to serve as tutors on an as-needed basis to support our scholars in taking a rigorous honors and AP curriculum, further positioning them for college acceptances and scholarship awards.
College Success Team (CST) Mentors are Elon Academy college students who are juniors in good standing at their college or university. CST Mentors are recruited, trained, and supervised by the Elon Academy staff. CST Mentors are provided on each campus where at least three Academy graduates are enrolled. This peer-to-peer model provides opportunities for one-on-one academic, social, and personal support in the transition into college.
Collaboration, Research, and Outreach
In addition to the four-phase program, the Elon Academy provides support and resources for the larger community as well as raising awareness and informing the larger conversation regarding college access and success through presentations and publications. Our goal is to develop a nationally replicable model and provide materials to others engaged in this work. To date accomplishments have included the production of a documentary, UnHoped For, which follows four scholars from the charter class from acceptance into the program to the current day and a Go-4-College DVD series based on frequently asked questions from our scholars and families. Nearly 300 DVDs have been distributed to local middle and high schools and we are exploring plans to develop the DVD as a resource for national distribution. We have also linked the DVD series to our public, regularly updated, website which provides a variety of resources and information (www.elon.edu/elonacademy). We have published a book (researched and written by staff members, a research assistant, three Elon University students and 13 of our scholars), Speaking Out: Underrepresented Students Challenging the Inequities of College Access. The Academy was created after researching highly successful programs at Furman and Princeton, however our faculty and staff continue to engage in research to ensure that we remain on the cutting edge of college access and success work. We attend and present at local, state, and national meetings and conferences. The staff regularly publishes in peer-reviewed journals.