Humberto Meza is looking forward to starting college at the University of Denver this fall. But the 2016 graduate of Aurora’s Hinkley High School knows that the odds are in many ways against his finishing. He also recently became a father, adding new pressure on his time and finances.
“I want to be involved in raising him,” Meza said of his four-month-old son.
Students like Meza struggle more often when they get to college, according to a study that the Colorado Department of Education released last summer. The study found that many black and Hispanic students in the state go for just one year before leaving, in many cases because of pressure to work, trouble acclimating to more challenging courses, and a lack of support in making the transition.
The Denver-based Daniels Fund, a foundation that focuses on education as well as other issues in Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico and Utah, wants to break that trend.
Since 2000, the fund has given scholarships to poor students in those four states. This year, it paid for more than 200 high school graduates from poor families to go to college and attend a weeklong seminar aimed at easing their college transition.
Dubbed SHIFT, Scholars Heading Into the Future Together, the summer program is supposed to help the students make the transition to college by providing information they may not have learned in high school.
“Lower income students usually are going to be coming from lower-income schools,” said Brian Harke, a dean of students at the University of Southern California who has studied the high school-to-college transition. “Many of those schools lack college counselors.”
Schools like Aurora’s Hinkley, which educates mostly black and Latino students, are taking steps to address the need to explicitly help students prepare for college. Last school year, the school opened a college center meant to help upperclassmen handle the process of going to college.
Students from poor families can also struggle to fit in socially.
“They are at a university where they are surrounded by students who are much more affluent,” Harke said. “They don’t have $30 to see an event on the weekend, or they are having to work when their friends don’t have to work.”
The Daniels scholarship means that Meza won’t have to work as much as he might otherwise have to, freeing him up to focus more on his studies and family. He said he sees the financial support, and the financial literacy and study skills training he got this week at the fund’s summer program, as a push toward getting the degree he needs to secure a well-paying job for himself. He’s looking at the man who established the scholarship program as an example.
“I want to leave a big footprint like Mr. Daniels,” Meza said. ‘This will help with that.”