Peers Take Center Stage in New Strategy to Help More City High School Students Get to College

In Brooklyn, less than half of all graduating seniors enroll in college; fewer than 18 percent are truly ready for college-level courses.  

As New York City vows to increase college preparation in public school curriculum through its Common Core initiative, complementary strategies for guiding students through the college search, application, and enrollment process become ever more important. For many students who lack consistent guidance and mentorship, and schools which are increasingly overburdened, a new practice holds promise: Youth Leadership for College Access.

“Walking the Same Hallways,” a white paper published today by Brooklyn Community Foundation and its Education & Youth Achievement Fund grantee, College Access: Research and Access (CARA), describes the emerging strategy of placing young people in leadership roles to help their peers prepare for college and move through the application process.

Youth Leaders, the paper’s authors Lori Chajet and Lisa Cowan report, not only develop skills critical to their own success in college—public speaking, organization, advocacy, and perseverance—they also make college more accessible to a wider circle of students, thereby improving the college-going culture of their schools, and the youth voice within their schools. Additionally, peers can be more responsive and accessible to each other’s needs, in part because youth speak one another’s language in ways most adult staff cannot. In the end, with appropriate training, support, and supervision, both groups come away with skills essential to post-secondary success.

Twenty-four New York City community-based organizations using some aspect of youth leadership in their college access programming participated in a survey for the white paper, which outlines and details their individual take on the strategy. From these, the white paper presents four key components to a successful, high quality College Access Youth Leadership Program:

  • Clearly defined roles for Youth Leaders to play
  • Appropriate training and supervision
  • Opportunity for youth-to-youth connection
  • Meaningful compensation for work

In determining next steps for promoting the growth of Youth Leadership in College Access programs, the authors call out the importance of providing training for schools and community-based organizations. The Brooklyn Community Foundation is funding CARA to lead a 2012 Youth Leadership Training Institute for Brooklyn CBOs.

“There is a huge motivation for us to get more of our young people into college,” says Brooklyn Community Foundation President Marilyn Gelber. “Education is the ultimate springboard for generational change in our poorest communities. While Brooklyn is now known as a creative and tech capital, and borough-wide we’re improving academically and economically, a significant percentage of our students are being left out and unsupported. We want to invest in homegrown talent and equip our next generation of leaders to take on our borough’s biggest ongoing challenges. We not only want to help them realize their dreams, but also realize the dream of a more equitable Brooklyn.”

“The Brooklyn Community Foundation has been, and continues to be, instrumental in promoting the development of the field of youth leadership for college access,” adds CARA Co-Director Lisa Cowan. “With their support, this promising practice has been documented and shared with a range of schools and organizations in Brooklyn and throughout New York City. We at CARA are thrilled to have an ally like the Community Foundation in our work to create productive post-secondary pathways for all of NYC youth.”

Read and download the White Paper, “Walking the Same Hallways: Youth Leadership in College Access” here.



About Brooklyn Community Foundation
Brooklyn Community Foundation's mission is to improve the lives of people in Brooklyn by strengthening communities through local giving, grantmaking and community service. The first and only one of its kind in Brooklyn, the Community Foundation was founded in 2009 to support the borough's most effective nonprofits in five Field of Interest Funds: Arts for All, Caring Neighbors, Community Development, Education and Youth Achievement, and Green Communities. To date, the Community Foundation has distributed more than $10 million to Brooklyn’s nonprofit community. Due to legacy support from Independence Community Bank, 100% of all tax deductible donations to the Brooklyn Community Foundation go directly back to the community. Learn more at:; follow at; and like at

About College Access: Research and Access (CARA)
College Access: Research and Action (CARA) was founded to support the college access work of schools, community-based organizations, and universities. Using educational reform and youth leadership strategies, CARA works with a variety of partners to create responsive and effective programs. By bringing together a range of people, institutions and perspectives, CARA leverages best practices, young peoples’ lived experiences, and existing resources to develop programs that help students from low-income backgrounds explore post-secondary options and navigate the multiple obstacles to college acceptance, matriculation and success.