Michael J. Carter grew up attending private school in San Jose, California. As a teen he believed all hard-working students had a shot at college. In response to this, his Mexican-American grandfather calling him a ‘menso' - Spanish for moron. Carter’s immigrant grandparents had both worked two jobs in order to send Carter’s mother to college.
When Michael transferred to a public high school in his junior year, he began to understand where his grandfather was coming from. He discovered very different attitudes toward college between public and private high school students. At private school, most students were preparing for college. Where as friends with solid grades at public school weren’t prepping for college because it didn’t occur to them that they could afford to go.
He also thought it unlikely that his public school peers would get much college guidance from school counselors. Each counselor at his school was responsible for the academic guidance of about 800 students.
“This made me realize that I was a ‘menso'. I saw the college enrollment disparity, and I became determined to help solve it,” Michael says. “I thought, ‘Who better to help those students than us, the college students, who just made it through admissions successfully?”
Upon arriving at Washington University in St. Louis in 2007, Michael designed a pilot study that paired college students with public high school students. With a team of college classmate mentors and faculty support, the pilot team partnered with the nearby Eskridge High School in Wellston, Missouri. The students engaged in an intensive year of no-cost, one-on-one college prep mentoring.
“Most of the students weren’t looking at college at all, and those who were weren’t looking at four-year colleges. They had a lot of misconceptions. We explained that the sticker price was not the actual price and that there are all sorts of ways to pull the money together,” Carter said. “The fact that many of us had done it ourselves made it seem possible.”
Significantly improving college acceptance rates was the goal of the pilot. And that's exactly what happened. The high school’s four-year-college acceptance rate went from 1 out of 30 the previous year, to 24 out of 27 as a result of the pilot program.
The pilot was a success. But it was only the beginning. Michael learned that every year around 400,000 qualified low-income students don’t enroll in college. The lost of potential wages and the unfulfilled college dreams disappointed Michael.
“I got obsessed,” Carter said. “If you were my friend, you either got involved or stopped talking to me.” While still in college, Carter started to seek investors so he could expand the mentoring program to other schools. He managed to raise enough money to launch new chapters.
Upon completing his bachelor’s degree in 2010, Michael returned to his home state of California and opened the Strive for College headquarters. Over the years, Strive for College has steadily grown its impact throughout the nation.
A major milestone for Strive, was the launch of its online mentoring platform. This platform connects high school students with a mentor 'virtually' anytime, anywhere. Through video chat, document sharing, text and instant messaging, mentors help students edit essays, decipher financial-aid forms, find scholarships, and more. Mentors come from all walks of life; they are professionals, retirees, and college students.
The Strive platform also provides ‘best fit’ colleges for each student, based on stats. It predicts the cost to the student for a degree after financial aid, and it provides graduation stats.
“As a kid who went on tons of visits, the one question I never asked was the graduation rate,” Carter said. “A lot of students take out loans to go to school with low graduation rates. They end up with no degree and a lot of debt.”
Many Strive for College students enroll with no debt, and the remaining pay about $7,000 a year. Nearly 90 percent of Strivers stay enrolled through their sophomore year, which is a key graduation predictor.
Today, Michael is one of the nation’s leading advocates for college accessibility. Strive for College operates nationally and continues to change the face of higher education one qualified high school student at a time.