Date November 28, 2023
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New initiative at Brown aims to boost college enrollment, readiness, success for Providence students

With its first cohort arriving next summer, the Brown Collegiate Scholars Program aims to propel more motivated, talented Providence public school students toward college degrees.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Current eighth-graders from Providence’s public schools will soon be able to apply to join a free college-preparation program at Brown University.

The Brown Collegiate Scholars Program — designed to prepare cohorts of students from Providence to enter college degree programs after high school graduation — is recruiting its first students before an application process that opens in February, in time to welcome its inaugural cohort to the Brown campus in summer 2024.

The program will provide participants year-round academic support and college-preparation guidance to advance opportunities to successfully apply to, select, finance and attend college. Held on Brown's campus, it will enroll a new cohort of approximately 25 eighth-grade students from the Providence Public School District each year. Programming — which will include classes, workshops, counseling, tutoring by Brown students and mentorship involving Brown faculty, staff and alumni — will start the summer before each student’s ninth-grade year and persist through their high school graduation.

Adrienne Marcus — dean of Brown’s Division of Pre-College and Undergraduate Programs, which oversees the program — said the Brown Collegiate Scholars Program aims to boost college enrollment and success for students who live and learn in Providence. It will support high schoolers through every step of the college admissions process, from exploring interests and nurturing academic and personal growth to preparing for college entrance exams, understanding financial aid packages and making the most of campus visits.

"Applying to college can be a complex and daunting process, especially for first-generation college students," Marcus said. "We've created the Brown Collegiate Scholars Program to help guide participating Providence students through that process. By making it more manageable, we hope to increase the likelihood that they pursue higher education and achieve their academic, personal and career goals."

Brown Collegiate Scholars


Brown's free college-preparation program empowers PPSD students to explore their interests and strengthen their academic preparation for college.

About 55% of Providence public school students enroll in two-year or four-year colleges or universities immediately after graduation, according to the Rhode Island Department of Education, compared to 63% in Boston and 81% in New York City. And, only 32% of PPSD students enter four-year institutions. 

Given gaps between college aspirations and enrollment in urban public school districts, those numbers make sense to Brown Class of 1993 alumnus Lamont Gordon, who led youth and college access programs in Boston, New York City and Washington, D.C., before joining Providence-based College Visions in 2022 as its executive director. The nonprofit is one of Rhode Island's longest-standing college access programs and provides guidance, resources and mentorship to help more than 500 local students achieve their college aspirations.

Gordon was one of dozens of leaders from local community-based organizations with whom Brown leaders consulted in developing the program, to ensure that it complements existing efforts in Providence and addresses important needs of local students and families.

"Whether it's Providence, Boston or New York, the common factor we see among urban public schools is a consistent gap between the percentage of students who say they want to go to college and the percentage who actually apply and enroll," Gordon said. "That tells me there are students who have the desire and potential but just lack the support and guidance they need to follow through and apply to college. The need for college access programs is there, and that's why the work that College Visions and now Brown are doing is so important."

With full funding from the University, the Brown Collegiate Scholars Program will come with no cost to students and families, including all sessions during the academic year and summer and a residential campus experience.

Expanding college access and success

Nick Figueroa came to the University in April to develop and direct the Brown Collegiate Scholars Program, calling upon expertise from his previous roles leading family and community engagement for PPSD and as a former executive director of College Visions. He said college affordability, insufficient academic preparation and difficulty navigating application and financial aid processes are among the reasons that some students, especially from low-income communities, do not enroll in college.

Under the leadership of Figueroa, the Brown program is designed to empower Providence teens to break through those barriers by equipping them and their families with the knowledge and skills needed to successfully apply to college and seek financial aid. Held throughout each summer, after school and on weekends during the academic year on Brown's campus, the program will provide information and resources to educate students about what to expect in applying to and enrolling in college. Recognizing the importance of family support in the college application process, the program will also provide family members with programming designed to create a clearer understanding of admissions and financial aid.

The purpose, Figueroa said, is to ensure that Providence students have the necessary tools to not only gain admission to college, but also to thrive academically and graduate successfully.

“It's one thing to get you to college, but it is just as important to get you through college,” Figueroa said. “This program will provide a comprehensive set of skills and knowledge to prepare students for the academic, personal and social challenges of higher education. We’ll cover everything from college culture and picking a major, to managing stress, asking for help and becoming independent — no one will wake you up in the morning at college, for example. By focusing on academics, social-emotional learning and youth development skill building, the Brown Collegiate Scholars Program will ensure students are college-ready.”

In the first two years of the program, the early high-schoolers will build foundational academic skills such as study habits, time management and organizational skills while simultaneously accessing one-on-one academic support to help them overcome academic challenges and ensure they are prepared for college-level work. To create a supportive experience, the program will also incorporate social-emotional learning, identity exploration and leadership development, striving to create a learning environment that promotes personal and academic growth, Figueroa said.

The final two years will focus on offering personalized college counseling and planning, financial aid advising, standardized test preparation and career exploration opportunities. Throughout the four years, each cohort will have a dedicated advisor available for hands-on assistance and personalized support.

Participants are expected to commit approximately 2 to 4 hours weekly during the school year and full days for four weeks each summer. When scholars are high school juniors and seniors, Brown will welcome them to stay on campus to experience a residential summer program.

Brown will begin accepting applications in February. Students who will be enrolled as ninth-graders in any of PPSD’s 10 high schools in 2024-25, including charter school Times² STEM Academy, are eligible and can apply online. Program leaders encourage applications from all eligible students, particularly those who are the first in their families to go to college and/or those who have limited financial resources.

We want academically motivated students - that could mean a C+ student willing to put in extra effort to improve their grades by showing up, asking for support and staying with the program for four years. We’re confident that talented, motivated students like that will benefit from their participation in the Brown Collegiate Scholars Program.

Nick Figueroa Director, Brown Collegiate Scholars Program
Figure headshot

Figueroa said he hopes to have representation from every high school in the district, serving students who aspire to attend college and could benefit from tutoring, guidance and mentorship. Supportive interventions that empower students are essential for creating a successful college pipeline, he said.

“We want academically motivated students, but that doesn’t mean straight A’s,” Figueroa said. “That could mean a C+ student willing to put in extra effort to improve their grades by showing up, asking for support and staying with the program for four years. We’re confident that talented, motivated students like that will benefit from their participation in the Brown Collegiate Scholars Program.”

Aligning needs with community partners

The program’s launch follows two years of planning and development, including engagement with local school leaders, families, nonprofit directors and other community partners. Brown leaders conducted more than 50 interviews and focus groups with stakeholders ranging from PPSD students, parents, alumni, educators and administrators, to leaders of youth and college access nonprofits, to Brown community members who lead outreach programs that involve partnership with local K-12 schools.

Recognizing that several Rhode Island organizations work in college access and readiness, program leaders are focused intentionally on working in partnership with local leaders to complement existing efforts and add to the reach of organizations like College Visions and the resources offered in PPSD directly

The Brown Collegiate Scholars Program will also integrate with existing University initiatives that support college access for local students. Most recently, Brown committed to providing full Pre-College scholarships to all admitted Providence public school students and launched College Day at Brown to welcome hundreds of high schoolers to explore Brown classes, athletics programs and community engagement opportunities.

“Investing in programs that support Providence’s public schools and the students they enroll is one of the central pillars of Brown’s larger set of community engagement aims," said Vice President for Community Engagement Mary Jo Callan. "By helping local students achieve their college aspirations, we hope to play one part in an ecosystem of support that jump-starts successful lives and thriving careers for the talented young people in Providence.”

Providence public school students and families interested in learning more can visit the Brown Collegiate Scholars Program website at