Posse has a simple mission: create social supports at top colleges to reduce dropout rates among students from poor urban neighborhoods. Although many elite colleges are anxious to have low-income and minority students on their campuses, they find it difficult to keep them in school. Even when provided with generous scholarship packages, students from these backgrounds often fail to complete their degrees. The missing supports, founder Debbie Bial realized, were social.
So Posse now works with universities to identify, in each of its ten operating cities, groups of ten high-potential high-school seniors who might not otherwise consider that top-flight university. Rather than bringing them in as isolated enrollees, Posse recruits them as a group (or posse) to undergo together eight months of training in teamwork, academics, and leadership before they enroll together at one of the foundation’s partner universities—where each will be guaranteed a full scholarship. Once enrolled on campus, members of the posse continue to meet, offering each other support. They also receive weekly mentoring from Posse liaisons throughout their four years of undergraduate study. And as they approach graduation, Posse provides them with internship opportunities, an alumni network, and career counseling.
Multiple posses are pulled together in each city most years. As of 2015, Posse had sent 275 students to 53 top-tier colleges, secured $806 million in scholarships for those students, and graduated them at a rate of 90 percent. In recent years the foundation has added similar programs to help recently returned veterans succeed at elite colleges, and to support students majoring in demanding STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, or math). In addition to the tuition waivers contributed by the participating colleges, Posse has been fueled by private donations—hundreds every year from smaller donors, as well as major gifts like the $60 million offered by the Ubben family.