May 2022 Newsletter

As another academic year comes to a close, we are inspired by the students who are graduating after enduring so much over the last two years. But as we celebrate their success, we are keenly aware that there are many students who wish to begin or continue their higher education journey but don’t have the means or opportunity to do so.

According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, college enrollment has shrunk more than five percent during the pandemic. That’s a loss of one million students. Learners from low-income backgrounds continue to be hit the hardest. About nine percent fewer students had completed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) by March than that same time period last year, the National College Attainment Network reports – that’s 873,489 fewer students filing a FAFSA. Completions among students who are already enrolled in college fell too, with about 880,800 fewer students returning. Many students are continuing to face financial hardship, and they are turning away from higher education as a result.

Financial aid programs are struggling to keep up with the immense need of today’s students. Take the federal Pell Grant program, which serves as a financial lifeline to seven million students, or one-third of undergraduates, each year. When Pell was first introduced in the 1970s, the grants covered more than three-quarters of the cost of a four-year degree at a public college or university. Pell has not kept pace with the rising costs of college, however, and the maximum award now covers just 30 percent. Over the last year, in both his first budget and his State of the Union address, President Joe Biden has proposed increasing the amounts awarded through Pell, signaling just how urgent the financial challenges students are facing have become.

For our part, we are working hard to support more Scholars than ever before. This month, we named 100 high-achieving community college students as recipients of our Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship — the largest cohort in the history of the program. Our new cohort of graduating high school seniors receiving the Cooke College Scholarship is also the largest ever. In addition, the amount of support we provide Scholars has grown over the last year. The Foundation increased its undergraduate award cap from $40,000 to $55,000, annually, and we doubled the Cooke Graduate Scholarship amount to $150,000.

Recognizing the important role internships play in helping students gain the skills and social capital necessary for starting and growing a career, we also offer Cooke College Scholars and Cooke Transfer Scholars stipends of up to $6,000 to pursue an unpaid summer internship at a non-profit or government organization. We also introduced a new program that will provide funding for Cooke Scholars to travel to conferences and job shadowing programs this year as well – an important opportunity for career development, especially for students with financial need.

These are just a handful of ways the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation has increased support for learners over the past few years. Over two decades, the Foundation has awarded more than $230 million in scholarships to nearly 3,000 high-achieving students with financial need. No matter the challenges that lie ahead, we will continue this mission — finding new ways to support even more Scholars and their academic ambitions.

Warm regards,

Seppy Basili

Cooke Foundation Highlights:

Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Alum and medical student at the University of Nevada, Sherine Khanbijian reflects on the many challenges faced on her journey as an aspiring physician. After attending 7 different community colleges and with help from the Cooke Undergraduate Transfer scholarship, Khanbijian was able to attend California State University, Fullerton in 2015 where she also spent time volunteering as a health navigator in community centers connecting patients from underserved backgrounds with community resources. Khanbijian now attends Kirk Kerkorian School of Medicine at the University of Nevada Las Vegas where she is thriving and completing her studies.

Mandolyn Ludlum is a 2013 Cooke Transfer Scholar who is a University of California, Berkeley graduate and 2018 Cooke Graduate Scholar at Oxford University. Mandolyn is a musician, known by her artist name Mystic and is currently preparing to release a new album called Dreaming In Cursive: The Girl Who Loved Sparklers – which she describes as “healed Black woman music.” She has been busy shooting the videos for the project, which are collectively called A Black Love Trilogy. Mandolyn is a GRAMMY-nominated hip hop artist who is also an activist, scholar, community educator, home chef, and manages Beautiful Soundworks, her independent label. To check out more of and listen to Mystic’s music, click here.

This past month, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that Angel Sanchez, 2014 Cooke Transfer Scholar, was selected as a Second Chance Fellow! Angel’s fellowship will focus on restoring and enhancing access to education for people with prior criminal justice involvement. Prior to his fellowship, Angel was the Senior Policy Analyst at the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition (FRRC), where he also headed the organization’s Fines & Fees pro bono program and led efforts that informed and shaped Covid-19 interventions for individuals who were incarcerated, on supervision or being released. Angel is a graduate from the University of Central Florida and a 2017 University of Miami Cooke Graduate Scholar.

This month, Space For Humanity announced its selection committee has chosen Katya Echazarreta, 2016 Cooke Transfer Scholar,  to become the organization’s first ever citizen astronaut ambassador! Katya will join five other astronauts in space on Blue Origin’s New Shepard’s 21st mission with the goal to inspire future generations to pursue careers in STEM. Katya is a graduate from San Diego City College, 2015-2016 MESA Program female student of the year and will now be the first Mexican-born woman to go to space. She is currently pursuing her master’s degree in electrical and computer engineering at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. When she isn’t studying, Katya is also co-host of the YouTube series Netflix IRL and shares her scientific knowledge as “Electric Kat” on the educational series Mission Unstoppable on CBS.


News for High Achieving Students: 

Nationwide, 80 percent of high-achieving community college students express a desire to obtain a bachelor’s degree, but only so few (14%) actually reach that goal in six years.  Inside Higher Ed’s Beyond Transfer blog highlights solutions to the “leaky” transfer pipeline and low transfer success rate. In recent years, a number of efforts have been launched to improve transfer pathways for students,  like The Articulation of Credit Transfer Project (ACT) collaboration.  Seven community and baccalaureate colleges a part of the City University of New York (CUNY) are working to improve the information, credit transfer, and advising and administrative processes involved in the transfer process. The ACT collaboration introduces an innovative and impactful project called Transfer Explorer, or T-Rex, which will leverage CUNY’s centralized software systems to allow anyone to see actual program requirements across the University to determine which transfer courses satisfy program requirements, improving transfer information and graduation rates.

University of California, California State University, and California Community Colleges are set to receive an increase in state funding contingent on whether the institutions meet strategic goals to improve access, affordability, and equity for students. California’s three higher education systems will submit reports to the governor and legislature each November on their progress in meeting the goals which include the increasing graduation rates, closing achievement gaps, adding more UC and CSU seats for Californians, boosting financial aid, lowering debt, reducing the cost of college attendance, and producing more graduates in high-demand STEM fields. While the goals may seem quite ambitious for institutions to meet, the innovative deal highlights the states’ reinvestment in public colleges and universities that is so important to the overall success of students.


What We’re Reading:

Inside Higher EdTuition waivers for Native American students spread

Diverse: Issues In Higher EducationHow This Community College Gave Emergency Aid to Dual Enrolled Students

Washington PostInside elite transfer admissions: From community college to U-Va.

Chronicle of Higher Education – Could ‘Course Sharing’ Help HBCUs and Other Minority-Serving Colleges Graduate More Students?

Campus TechnologyUNCF Scales Up Student Success Coaching for HBCUs — Campus Technology