For first-generation college students, help moves beyond freshman year |

For first-generation college students, help moves beyond freshman year

Sponsored Content

A new Summit Foundation program will partner with Colorado Mountain College to help first-generation students earn college degrees

Written By Lauren Glendenning
Brought to you by The Summit Foundation

Summit High School seniors Anna Gonzalez, Brissa Veleta and Jaime Urias are going to be the first in their families to go to college.

With their college acceptance letters building, now the students must decide which schools they'll attend. Thanks to the Summit Foundation's Pre-Collegiate program at Summit Middle and Summit High Schools, these first-generation soon-to-be college students feel like they're ahead of the game.

"Because I'm first-generation, I didn't really know where to start or where I was going," Gonzalez, 18, said. "I didn't know the process at all. Pre-Collegiate has helped me with all my questions, scholarships, college applications — I've just gotten a lot of things done."

Recommended Stories For You

Now with Pre-Collegiate in its 9th year in Summit County, The Summit Foundation and its partners at the Summit School District and Colorado Mountain College (CMC) have noticed a need to expand the program in order to help these students beyond their freshman years in college, said Summit Foundation Executive Director Jeanne Bistranin. The partners at CMC saw that because so many scholarships for these first-generation college students were mostly awarded for freshman and sophomore years, many students would have to quit school beyond that in order to make enough money to cover tuition costs. Leaving school greatly increases the risk that they'll never earn a degree.

"A significant part of what we're doing is a new position at CMC called the College Navigator," Bistranin said. "That person will work with the students to find them scholarships and financial aid, and will work in conjunction with the student's CMC mentor to make sure the finances make sense. We want to help these students have an affordable path all the way through college."

A recent $100,000 donation by Vail Resorts CEO Rob Katz has paved the way for The Summit Foundation to kick off the new Mountain Scholars program. The Foundation will now also begin fundraising to ensure its success into the future.

CMC and beyond

Similar to Pre-Collegiate, CMC offers a mentoring program, founded by retired professionals Susan Propper, Don Dankner and Sharon Koblinsky. The three noticed a need for continuing support services for many students who struggled financially and also needed more guidance with things like time management, confidence in the classroom and completing assignments.

The CMC mentor program, which commonly works with the same students who went through the Pre-Collegiate program, also developed a scholarship for course books and materials, which is funded by The Summit Foundation.

"In our first year, we had eight mentors and mentees. Now, we have over 30 mentees and 25 mentors in the program," Propper said. "The persistence rate — the number who stay in school — for students in our program is roughly 65 percent."

Research from the Pell Institute shows that only 5 percent of first-generation, low-income students who begin at a community college actually earn a four-year college degree within six years without additional support.

The CMC College Navigator will assist students in securing financial aid, transferring to a four-year school, and will also form partnerships between CMC and other Colorado four year schools to ensure that students will be supported financially and academically. The Summit Foundation will also raise money to provide partial scholarships to these CMC mentees to help them achieve their goals.

The Summit Foundation has given more than $2 million in scholarships to help more than 1,000 students in Summit County. Of the 74 community scholarship funds totaling $400,000 in 2017, Pre-Collegiate students received $71,500, but the majority of the scholarships were for freshman year with just four offering assistance beyond freshman year. The Summit Foundation, the largest scholarship provider, awarded $200,000 of those scholarships in 2017 to 82 high school seniors, 25 of whom were Pre-Collegiate students.

"We have a lot of people who can't afford college," Bistranin said. "For us as a community foundation, it's really important we support that and that we help lead those efforts."

The Pre-Collegiate and CMC mentor program support has opened doors to a new future for first-generation college students. Now, with Mountain Scholars, the goal is to help keep those doors open rather than close them after the freshman or sophomore year.


What is Mountain Scholars?

Mountain Scholars is a new program at CMC funded by The Summit Foundation. Mountain Scholars will work with Pre-Collegiate to identify students who would benefit from starting at CMC for their first two years, and then continuing at CMC if appropriate or transferring to another college or four-year university to complete their education. Since CMC is less expensive, the bulk of the financial support from this program will be provided in the third and fourth year and students will be able to save their other financial assistance for these years when it’s more expensive.

To learn more about this program or make a donation, please contact Jeanne Bistranin at

First-generation college students

First-generation college students — the first generations in their families to attend college — face an uphill battle when it comes to financial support and earning degrees.

  • The majority (52%) of first generation, low-income students who enter postsecondary education enroll in community college, and only 19% enter four-year institutions. The rest enter for-profit schools or other institutions.
  • After six years, only one-third of these students have attained a two year or four-year degree.
  • Only 5% of first generation, low-income students who begin at community college actually earn a four-year college degree within 6 years without additional support.

* Source: The Pell Institute

At Summit High School:

  • Over the past three years, 70% of Summit High School students go to college.
  • About one-third of the SHS graduates go to CMC.
  • Of those, two-thirds are free/reduced lunch and/or were English Language Learners (2017).
  • For SHS grads that go to two-year colleges, only 25% complete freshman year and go on to sophomore year.
  • In comparison, the CMC Mentoring Program participants have a two-year completion rate of 65%.

*Source: The Summit Foundation