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High School Seniors Celebrate College Signing Day

One of the factors that keeps high school students from moving on to higher education is lack of money. But many colleges and universities are finding ways to help students whose families don’t have sufficient financial means.

One organization that works to prepare students in low-income families for college celebrated its success stories last night [Tuesday]. One will soon graduate from Lewis and Clark High School with her plans in place for next fall.

Madisen Hampton has some advantages other students don’t. Both of her parents went to college and they encouraged her to consider that as an option after high school.

“When my dad had passed away, he had written a letter. He’d go, just go to college, and he always talked about it’s an experience to go learn more about yourself, if not learn about education and learn what you want, just getting to be in a new community and being on your own in a new way,” Hampton said.

Another thing she has is drive. Her mother, Jennifer Evans, says the process of preparing Madisen for college began back in middle school.

“It was eighth grade and her counselors really pursued because we had been in the free and reduced lunch program, which identified us as a low-income family. They pursued her to go for that initial step, which was that college bound piece,” Evans said.
She’s referring to Washington’s College Bound Scholarship, which guarantees financial aid for students who commit by the end of eighth grade to attend a college in Washington. Then, Madisen was recruited to enroll in the non-profit College Success Foundation, led in Spokane by Susan Nielsen.

“The College Foundation’s mission is to work with low-income, underserved, students of color and foster youth and also first-generation students to help them see college as a possibility," Nielsen said. "We provide all the programs and platforms for them to do that, starting in middle school.”

The foundation has a presence in three Spokane middle schools and five high schools. Students take college preparation classes. They’re mentored by advisors and guided through the college application process.

A few hundred students in the foundation’s program join Madisen at a Tuesday evening event dubbed College Signing Day at Gonzaga University. It’s kind of like the event high-profile high school athletes stage when they announce which colleges they’ll attend.

Students sign a huge banner near the name of their chosen institution. And Susan Nielsen says they’ll walk out of here with a college care package, thanks to BECU.

“So the students will have items in there like plastic hangers and bath towels and a desk lamp and a surge protector, sewing kit, first aid kit,” Nielsen said.

Ten students whose names were randomly chosen also walked out with $500 scholarships, thanks to the Cowles Company and Avista.

One of the highlights of the event was the walk across stage, like at the commencement ceremonies these students will attend soon. Students from Spokane will be going to colleges and universities across Washington and the Northwest.

Madisen Hampton made a choice to stay close to home.

“I’m attending Whitworth University in Spokane," she said. "I’m not totally sure what I want to do for my future career or what to study, but I’m very interested in taking care of people.”

And while she’s there, at least three scholarships will take care of her: her College Bound scholarship from the state, one through the College Success Foundation and another through Whitworth. That leaves her to cover her room-and-board.

Madisen’s mom, Jennifer Evans, says her daughter had also been considering Western Washington University and the University of Washington.

“I will tell you the decision to go to Whitworth saved me. Twenty-to-30 minutes away, even though I’m not a North side person, that really helped. I think that will help with the transition,” she said.

Susan Nielsen says the College Success Foundation will continue to provide services to these students while they’re in college. She says about 62% of the students who enroll with the foundation go on to graduate.