I am in New York for "mentor boot camp" for the Posse Foundation. Posse is a scholarship program for kids from urban public schools with great leadership skills who nonetheless might be overlooked by traditional college admissions methods.
Posse matches specific colleges with specific cities. The foundation staff in that city solicit nominations from school counselors and hundreds of community groups, which yields thousands of leadership kids. The foundation and the college do the very labor-intensive work of winnowing those thousands down to a group of ten young people. The kids are committed to that school and the school is committed to those kids.
The genius of the Posse Foundation is that it then takes those kids and spends the eight months before the academic year begins molding them into an intensely committed support group – a posse. (As the foundation now says, that term may have seemed cooler when they thought it up in the late '80s).
The posse is paired with a mentor, who will meet with them as a group each week, and with each of them individually each fortnight, during their first two years of college. I have the privilege of being mentor to Centre Posse 1. They will be followed each year by Centre Posses 2, 3, and 4, and, if all goes well, many more.
What the college gives is a full-tuition scholarship to each student in the posse and a commitment to stick with them to graduation. What the college gets is a diverse group of students who roughly match the ethnic profile of their home city. However, Posse is not a minority scholarship or a need-based scholarship. The aim is to get overlooked leaders. Nearly all the colleges are liberal arts schools far from the Posse cities. In our case, the distance, physically and culturally, is from Kentucky to Boston. What the posse-ness of the posse assures is that they will support one another through the culture shock and normal academic and social difficulties of going to a tough school far from home.
Posse has a graduation rate about 90% -- higher than the graduation rate of all but a handful of colleges in America.
Posse also has the support of some of the central Establishment corporations in America. The national office, where the "boot camp" is held is at an iconic Wall Street address, on a floor shared with Morgan Stanley. Ten percent of the 400 Posse alumni work for Lehman Brothers, almost all of them having proven themselves in summer internships while in college. These leading corporations, and professional firms and non-profits, know that the Posse Foundation system, hugely expensive and intensive though it is, is about the only way to truly diversify the leadership class of America.
Posse mobilizes two powerful forces – peer pressure and institutional self-interest – to do a great and necessary thing for the future of America.