SAN JOSÉ — Mayor Sam Liccardo recently joined students, donors, and community partners to celebrate the first anniversary of San José Aspires (SJ Aspires) a micro-scholarships and resource program that works to reduce financial and informational barriers preventing low-income youth in San José from attending college. The program has received $9 million in philanthropic donations and so far served 1,190 first-generation, low-income students in San José.
“San José Aspires’ critical mission to support the often tough journey of students from low-income households to higher education inspires our community to invest even more in our children,” said Liccardo. “The ongoing commitment and generosity of our philanthropic partners will directly translate to the success and accomplishment of so many dreams and goals of San José families.”
Liccardo launched SJ Aspires in April 2021 in partnership with the San José Public Library and the San José Public Library Foundation to enable youth in underserved neighborhoods to set goals that chart a path toward receiving post-secondary education, and reduce the barriers that disadvantaged students of color face in accessing academic opportunities. The program uses a unique system of task-oriented micro-scholarships that align with the students’ college-going or post-graduation decisions and actions.
Through an online platform, participating students receive guidance on how to navigate the college educational process from applications and admissions through guidepost activities to garner a college-going mindset. As part of the process, students earn micro-scholarships, or “scholar dollars’, towards a cumulative total of $5,000 for students’ post-secondary education plans. Since the inception of the program, students earned a total of $334,300 in scholar dollars and have participants enrolled at William C. Overfelt and San José High schools. 100 percent of students in the program will become first-generation college students, and 62 percent are Latino/a/x.
“The City of San José and San José Public Library are working with our partners to transform the educational landscape of our city, advancing equitable outcomes and responsiveness to the needs of our students. Through SJ Aspires, our local high school students have access to financial awards and essential support and resources from academic advisors to confidently pave their own paths to a post-secondary education.” said Jill Bourne, City librarian.
SJ Aspires has received donations from local companies including PayPal, Apple, and Samsung. Students can earn scholar dollars for a variety of accomplishments, including maintaining a high GPA, passing A-G courses, completing online modules, applying for college financial aid programs, and participating in extracurricular activities. Upon graduation, the virtual scholar dollars transform into actual dollars to help offset post-secondary education costs.
“As we come to the close of another academic year, we are incredibly proud of how students enrolled in SJ Aspires are taking charge of their future success,” said Dawn Coppin, executive director of the San José Public Library Foundation. “We see that these high schoolers are developing a college-going mindset as a result of participating in the program and are taking advantage of the financial micro-awards associated with academic and personal growth. It is a remarkable vote of confidence in these students by philanthropic donors to SJ Aspires who are increasing access to opportunities.”
On average, high school students in California receive just twelve minutes of academic counseling throughout their high school career. SJ Aspires was designed to help address the disparity in college readiness and preparation for life outside of high school for students in San José’s lowest resource census tracts – areas of the cities historically underserved by community investment and gainful employment opportunities.
“For us, SJ Aspires is not just a scholarship program. It is specifically targeted to support students who will be the first in their families to go to college. It’s not that it’s a scholarship fund that makes it unique. It’s the way it supports these students. It’s really woven into their high school, and it’s not a limited scholarship. It’s being applied to large numbers of students, enough to shift the entire school culture and make a substantial difference, not just for individual students but at a macro level for large numbers of students, it makes it unique in terms of scholarship programs. I know these students. I work with them every day. I see their strengths, resilience, and creativity. I know that empowering these strengths with education will make San José a better city,” said Vito Chiala, principal, William C. Overfelt High School.