by Jeff McGonigal
“When bright young minds can’t afford college, America pays the price,” Arthur Ashe, a former top-ranked tennis player remembered for his work to further social cause.
Back in 1992 the retired CEO of Medtronic, Winston Wallin along with his wife pondered the thought that there is a tremendous loss to our community and country when a young mind cannot pursue opportunity. As a product of the GI Bill following World War II, Winston and Maxine knew what a college degree meant to them and how their lives were changed by that opportunity.
Being people of action they decided to “light a candle.” They created a modest foundation establishing scholarships for students from middle- to low-income families who also possess an academic record indicating success in college. As a graduate of South High School in Minneapolis, Winston started the program at his alma matter.
Wallin Scholarships are now administered through Wallin Education Partners (WEP) which has expanded both in donors and recipients. In 2007 students in Anoka-Hennepin became eligible and 21 earned the scholarship. This past spring, 37 Wallin Scholars from Andover, Anoka, Blaine, Champlin Park and Coon Rapids high schools each received a scholarship valued at $16,000.
Since the program began in Anoka-Hennepin, we have had 186 recipients with the total value of the scholarships now at almost $3 million. One can only imagine the doors that open to these bright young minds when financial resource is no longer a barrier. One can also imagine the resource these college graduates will be to our communities long into the future.
At the program’s inception there was a lot to learn about developing best practices in supporting recipients. The Wallins and their partners envisioned a system of support throughout college and that has become a reality. Here is how this assistance is explained by WEP, “Each scholar is assigned a professional advisor to help him or her navigate through college. Advisors assess student needs and proactively work with students and on-campus resources to address individual needs while teaching scholars self-advocacy along the way.”
The four-year graduation rate for typical college students is about 45 percent. The most recent graduation rate for Wallin Scholars exceeds 75 percent. What is more exciting for Anoka- Hennepin is that our Wallin Scholar college graduation rate is even higher; almost 100 percent of Anoka-Hennepin’s Wallin Scholars have either graduated college or are still enrolled.
Anoka-Hennepin schools are committed to college and career readiness with a high percentage of students achieving post-secondary success beyond high school. To that end we have increased opportunities for rigorous courses, those offering college credit through testing, and those that are actually college curriculum. Outstanding programs like Wallin serve to strengthen our graduates.
Other local schools are involved in the Wallin Education Partners and all their students benefit in a similar manner. You can learn more about the Wallin Education Partners and how you can support their work by visiting www.wallinpartners.org.
Jeff McGonigal is the associate superintendent for high schools in the Anoka-Hennepin School District.