Wash U's College Prep Readies Low-Income Scholars for Higher Ed

High school students live on campus three summers

Megan Lynch
April 24, 2018 - 7:15 am

St. Louis, Mo. (KMOX) - This fall a group of low-income students in the St. Louis area will do something their parents and grandparents never did.   Go to college.    It's thanks to a three-year program that's prepared them to take such a big step.

Khylan Nevils-Reed and his family moved back to the region just before he started high school.  He calls the neighborhood they came to live in harsh,

"Some of the violence, the drug use.  A lot of those circumstances that I'm thankful I wasn't directly immersed in but it was just so close.  It was literally next door, like two houses over, three house over, this neighborhood, that neighborhood."

Khylan is now preparing to graduate from Collegiate School of Medicine and Bioscience in the St. Louis Public School District.   "It definitely made me have to be able to shift my focus toward what I was working to and not get caught up in that and just be another statistic."

He's been admitted to Washington University next year, planning to major in both business and neuroscience.  "I have an interest in neurodegenerative diseases, like Parkinsons, Alzheimers, things like that.  If I get a specialty, that would be it."

Khylan has spent part of his last three three summers living and studying at Wash U in the College Prep Program, gaining skills, earning college credit, and building a network of support, "genuine, like, actually getting to know people, people who's positions that I see, that I want to be in, who I think I could learn from, people who have been there, people who look like me and who don't look like me."

He's one of nearly three dozen students from the program who have been admitted to college this fall.  "First-generation, low-income, really under-resourced families, who with a little bit of help could attain a degree at an even more rigorous college or university."  Leah Merrifield is Associate Vice Chancellor for Community Engagement and Director of the College Prep program at Washington University. 

Merrifield says for many talented young people and their families, higher education is unexplored territory.  She says in some cases high school counselors are too overwhelmed to provide them the type of one-on-one guidance and support that's needed.  "And that counselor is dealing with homelessness of students and truancy, and oh by the way when I have time, I can help students figure out where they want to go to college."

The college prep program prepares famililes for the college admissions and financial aid process.   More than that it gives students an opportunity to see what it's like to live and study on campus, expands on science and writing skills, and helps them explore social and emotional growth.

As Kylan explains, "we had real life discussions about current events, identity, how to manage your emotions, how to help other people manage their emotions."

"Because these are the things we see even at Washington University with high-achieviing, high-weath young people," points out Merrifield.  "If they get here and they don't feel like they belong, if they get here and they don't feel like they can express themselves and be who they authentically are, they struggle academically."

For Khylan it helped him explore his role as an African American man in this community and country, "beginning to understand that basic part of the environment that you come is from is going to play a huge part in when I get to this next level that not many of us make it to, and then this next level and this next level, so that I'm able to give back."

"Intergenerational proverty is grinding," says Merrifield, "but a college degree can be a game-changer.  They're helping their family, they help the region, they help themselves.  It just makes such a difference on so many  levels."

This is the second class of students graduating from Washington University's College Prep program, going on to 4-year studies across the country.  There is no cost to the scholars or their families.  Merrifield says they stay in contact with all students and will track their progress throughout their college careers and beyond.