While a student at Stanford University, Garrett Neiman worked as an SAT tutor and found it pretty lucrative. But it also opened his eyes to the inequity in access to prep for college-admissions testing.
To help low-income students improve their scores on the SAT and their college-admissions chances, Neiman co-founded a nonprofit organization now known as CollegeSpring (formerly SEE College Prep). Fellow Stanford student Jessica Perez is the co-founder. The venture got off the ground in 2008 while they were still in school, but formally launched in June 2010.
With the push for college completion, particularly among first-generation students, CollegeSpring may be a model to follow. It currently operates only in California, but there are plans to expand to other markets, including New York, within the next year or so.
CollegeSpring is funded with philanthropic support from the Packard Foundation, the Keck Foundation, Coleman Fung, Mindy Rogers, Tom Friel, and others. It also generates revenue from the schools it partners with that pay for the test-prep and college-mentoring services for their studentstypically about $200 per student.
The San Francisco-based organization contracts mainly with charter schools serving low-income students to provide an 80-hour SAT-prep program to high school juniors in the school. Teachers and college students are hired to deliver the training, which can take place during the academic year for all juniors or in an accelerated summer program for those who choose to participate.
In the program, students take four full-length, proctored SAT exams. The information is used to help instructors identify areas where improvement is needed. There is a combination of classroom lessons and small group mentoring, which cover the fundamentals of financial aid and the college-admissions process.
What makes the program work, says Neiman, is that it's tailored to the needs of students who don't have families with college experience by mentors who can convey the importance of the test. "We employ mission-driven people, including many people of color, who care about first-generation kids," he says. "Our vision is for students to be equipped to go on to college."
The curriculum is intensive and focuses on getting students who start with low SAT scores to build core academic skills in English and math, as opposed to mastering the "tricks of the test," says Neiman.
So far, CollegeSpring has served about 3,000 students and helped them on average to improve their SAT scores by nearly 200 points. (A perfect test score is 2400something Nieman knows about firsthand.)
CollegeSpring's central office employs 10 people, plus contractors, and it employs 100 teachers and college students on the ground to carry out the program. The goal is to double the program in three years, he says.
At 24, Neiman says developing the nonprofit has been an amazing experience. "The opportunity to lead an organization and feel like I'm making a difference at this stage in my life has been extremely rewarding," he says.