Keys to Getting the Degree

What we've learned from following three cohorts of Capital Area Promise Scholars through their first years of college

BY CARMEN ROSS, Program Manager, Impact Strategy

The majority of students in our region are from low-income households. As result, they encounter  significant systemic barriers to attending and graduating from college. Through our Capital Area Promise (CAP) Scholars program, the Foundation is working to remove some of those hurdles.

For example, even before tuition costs become a concern, it takes considerable time and money for students to apply to schools and to take standardized tests—both processes that affect chances of acceptance and receiving scholarships. And studies show that low-income families are faced with college expenses that often require spending more than 50% of their annual household income to fund a full-time student attending a public, four-year university.1

Most low-income families in our region are non-white, so students of color face the greatest barriers to enrolling in college—and, if they do enroll, these students are often confronted with additional barriers to persisting through college and earning their degrees. So many young people drop out of college during the first two years. This can be devastating for their future opportunities, and it’s also devastating for the future of our community.

The CAP Scholars program, which I lead, pairs public financial aid awards with private scholarships and wraparound services that promote access and completion, such as mentorship that bridges the key period between the last years of high school and the first years of college. We launched the program in 2016 with an initial investment from College Futures Foundation. We have been working with that organization ever since to understand our Scholars’ experiences and outcomes, so we can continue fostering educational equity in the capital area. I am happy to share that we have a lot to celebrate!

Here are some of the program’s successes, so far.


Thanks to partnerships with organizations that have significant ties to schools and families in low-income neighborhoods, the CAP Scholars program is reaching the right students in our area—young people who have the aspirations and abilities to earn college degrees, but who lack the financial means to make it possible.


100% of the 126 newest Scholars are from low-income households

95% of the Scholars are students of color, and 54% are young men of color

80% are the first in their families to attend college


    We have awarded over 650 need-based scholarships of up to $2,500 to Scholars since 2016. These scholarships are renewable, a strategy that aims to encourage students to continue through college. It’s effective: For example, the retention rate for Scholars at Sacramento State (the postsecondary institution that most Scholars attend) surpasses that of students from similar backgrounds who aren’t part of our program by eight percentage points.


    Studies have demonstrated that, in addition to having adequate financial support, the students who are successful in college feel they belong on campus. All of our Scholars are from backgrounds that are traditionally underrepresented on college campuses, so it is essential to foster a sense of community among their peers as soon as possible. To facilitate that sense, we coordinate a Summer Institute each year. Attendees of the annual program at Sacramento State attend college-readiness classes in the university’s classrooms during the day and stay in dorms overnight, getting their first tastes of college life.

    Learn more about our CAP Scholars program


    1 “College Affordability Diagnosis: California,” University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education, (2016)


    By focusing on the root causes of local challenges, seeking solutions with long-term results, and supporting the organizations that tend to the vital needs of the capital area, we help create the conditions for meaningful transformation in the Sacramento region. 

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