Still Supporting Students' Dreams

Program Manager, Impact Systems
February 17, 2021

Ensuring that academic success is available to all remains a challenge, and students in our region experience unacceptable disparities in access to educational opportunities, during school and after. This is especially true for young men in African American and Latino/Hispanic communities, who are facing intensified historical inequity because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which studies show has significantly impacted them, their families, and their school performances.

We heard this first-hand last June when we surveyed students attending our annual Summer Institute for Capital Area Promise (CAP) Scholars, all of whom are young men of color who were preparing to enter their senior year of high school. Many shared that they faced increased challenges because of the pandemic—most notably, difficulty completing school requirements and loneliness due to social distancing.

(Respondents: 45 Summer Institute attendees, all of whom are rising high school seniors who are young men of color)

With these realities in mind, the Foundation team and our CAP Scholars partners worked diligently to meet student needs as they evolved in 2020, and I’d like to share some of what we accomplished:


Building sustained, trusting relationships with students is critical to improving educational outcomes. Though the pandemic has prevented CAP Scholars partners from connecting with students as they normally would, they engineered creative ways to continue delivering high-quality mentorship, college advising, and student development this year. I am honored to do a bit of bragging on their behalf:

  • After the pandemic hit, California Student Opportunity and Access Program (Cal-SOAP) hosted 29 virtual Cash-for-College workshops, assisting low-income and first-generation students throughout the Sacramento region with their financial aid applications. Their tutoring sessions also continued—virtually—with the benefit of 89 tutors hired to help support students during distance learning. Plus, to address the technology gaps many students experienced with the closure of libraries and computer labs, Cal-SOAP distributed laptops donated by Intel and Microsoft to college-bound CAP Scholars during a special drive-through event earlier this year.
  • Improve Your Tomorrow (IYT), our other student-serving partner, also transitioned its services online. Their team instituted virtual mentorship sessions, meetups, and workshops to ensure young people feel supported and loved; continued to provide regular advising to high school seniors to ensure they stay on track to attend college; and created an emergency fund to provide essentials to families in need. A critical part of their work was building IYT Virtual, its program to engage students and take their minds off the pandemic by creating non-academic virtual hangouts around topics ranging from sports, to cooking, to poetry.


Research has found that offering high school students support programming over the summer can decrease the negative outcomes of students being out of school and increase college enrollment by as much as eight percentage points.

Our annual Summer Institute for CAP Scholars aims to do just that. The Summer Institute incorporates high-impact programming to support student success, deepened engagement and a sense of belonging in higher education for local area students. This multi-day academic preparedness program for young men of color has traditionally been held in person. To accomplish our goal of “creating a highly interactive, student-centered Institute” while navigating pandemic-related limitations, we leveraged the strength of our existing partnerships—with IYT, Cal-SOAP, Youth Development Network, and Paper Wings Creative—and held a virtual Summer Institute over three days in late June.

Titled “Seize the Moment: The Digital Era,” the virtual Institute brought high school seniors and incoming college freshmen together with educational leaders from across the state. Students engaged in workshops to increase their knowledge about their personal strengths and financial aid resources, and throughout the Institute, they participated in enrichment activities with mentors and college coaches, including ongoing affirmations and end of day check-ins.

I’m glad to share that students found these few days meaningful: On the first day, 82% of students reported overall satisfaction with the Institute, increasing to 100% on the second. At the end of the Institute, 100% of survey respondents indicated that they would recommend the Virtual Summer Institute to others in the future. Overall, the Institute has received encouraging reviews from participants. Students said their participation in the Virtual Summer Institute inspired them to achieve their educational goals and take steps necessary to be prepared for their futures.


Even before the pandemic, college costs were rising far faster than wages in recent decades, and low-income families were 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 university. This year’s health and economic crises have exacerbated these challenges, making the CAP Scholarships that complete students’ financial aid packages and close gaps in funding more critical than ever.

In the five years since we launched the CAP Scholars program, the Foundation has awarded over 725 need-based scholarships of up to $2,500 to Scholars. All of these students are from low-income households, and 95% are students of color.

Learn about the CAPS Scholars program

Looking forward to 2021, we are preparing to explore the program’s impact over the past five years, and—with those findings—make any adjustments needed to sustain the program and better serve our Scholars. As with all the Foundation’s community leadership work, the pursuit of equity will be at the center of this effort, and we are working to raise funds to increase the CAP Scholarship Endowment Fund to ensure students get the support they need for many years to come.

From a personal perspective, while there is so much about 2020 that I am glad to leave behind, I’d be remiss to not acknowledge and share some of these silver linings. After overcoming last year’s hurdles, our team of CAP Scholars partners is better poised to overcome challenges in future years, too. At the end of the day, no matter what, our goal is always to support our region's students' dreams—and, in doing so, build a better future for our community.


Join Us!

Invest in the future of our region and make local students' college dreams possible by contributing to the Capital Area Promise Scholars Fund. Your gift will be added to the gifts of others and will go to work immediately to support local scholars in their pursuit of a degree.

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