Keith Caldwell, Board President
Melanie Porach, Board Vice President
Diana Bucco, Board Treasurer
Chip Burke, Board Secretary
The Benedum Foundation
The Buhl Foundation
The Grable Foundation
The Heinz Endowments
McKeesport Hospital Foundation and McKeesport Healthier Community PartnerSHIP
Urban Affairs Foundation of the United Jewish Federation
Dave Coplan, MPA, MSW
Melissa Smith, MSW
Scholarship Search Coordinator
Denise Daugherty, MSW
Service Coordinator & College Liaison
Chad Smith, M.Ed.
Stephanie Eson, MSW
Special Projects Coordinator
Jonathan Livingston, PhD
Research and Development
Accounts Payable Coordinator
From the outset, Advancing Academics did extensive school-based research with McKeesport Area School District and South Allegheny School District on whether their high-achieving, low-income high school seniors would attend college. McKeesport had tracked that only 24.2% of their seniors, and 31% of those with a QPA above 3.25 attended college in 2005. At South Allegheny, a survey the guidance counselor implemented on our behalf indicated that less than 30% of the target population planned to attend college. Longitudinal studies by the U.S. Department of Education from 2002 to 2004 found that, “Only 41 percent of low-income students entering a four-year college managed to graduate within five years, but 66 percent of high-income students did.” Furthermore, the updated 2006 study indicated that among low-income students, over 42% would drop-out within the first year.
Advancing Academics is based on the philosophy that by leveling the playing field, low-income, high-achieving students will have access to higher education with adequate financial resources. Studies show that families with means may spend in excess of $5,000 to $15,000 per student for this type of service. By assisting the high-achieving low-income youth with access to college and completion, Advancing Academics will help to change the individual’s financial circumstance for the rest of their lives. This will further provide greater opportunities to low-income youth, who are not as academically gifted, for when high achievers are pushed down in the educational strata; these youth are compressed to opportunities that are below their capabilities.
Advancing Academics recruits its students through direct partnerships with McKeesport Area School District, South Allegheny School District, Clairton School District, Auberle, and the Human Services Center Corporation. Approximately 20 to 30 students per year are registered by the staff of the partner agency in the middle of their junior year. Other partners who have not had eligible youth recently are Auberle and Communities In Schools. At any given time, Advancing Academics is providing mentoring and a liaison to over 120 college students who started with the program while in high school. The goal of that aspect is college retention to graduation and eventual career appropriate employment. Advancing Academics will assist high school juniors through their senior year to overcome financial barriers to higher education.
Advancing Academics will assist low-income, high-achieving youth with college application assistance, as well as scholarship identification and application assistance (including the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and individualized scholarship searches and applications). Advancing Academics also diligently retains students to complete college, graduate, and attain a job in their chosen career.