Helping Students Should Always Be More than Giving a Check
Given that the dropout rate among economically disadvantaged South African university students is estimated to be as high as 70 percent, the expectation is that those who actually make it to a university won’t ever graduate.
Each academic year, 100 Dell Young Leaders enter the University of Cape Town (UCT) and University of Pretoria with financial support and wrap-around services that help to level the playing field. They are high potential students with track records of overcoming adversity. They are first-generation college students from deeply disadvantaged communities. Many have lived through unimaginable challenges. Just making it to university is a huge accomplishment. And every student in the program requires and receives individualized support in the areas of financial resources, psycho-social counseling and academic development.
On the first day of university these students begin with very little chance of graduating with a degree—only 27 percent of students on financial aid in South Africa make it to graduation. With efforts made by the foundation to understand specific challenges on the ground, Dell Young Leaders now have opportunities to defy the odds, prepare for employment and position themselves for a lifetime of success.
The Path to Graduation Is Winding
One of the first lessons we earned in tandem with the students is that the road to graduation is never a straight one. Life happens. Pressures from the homes and families they left behind weigh on the students, and throw them off balance. They make mistakes in a brand new environment. They need help enrolling in financial aid, learning how to talk to professors, or switching courses after realizing they’ve chosen the wrong degree. We’ve found we must all tighten our grips, and be committed to taking each twist and turn as it comes.
The Biggest Challenges Can Be Unexpected
Even with exhaustive preparation, we discovered that some of the most arduous challenges the students face are not predictable. We expect a student to be thrilled with his safe, comfortable housing and his nutritious three meals a day. Instead, he is guilt-ridden about enjoying such luxuries while his family continues to live in poverty in a rural province. We don’t expect a student who has lived a primitive life in one of the most impoverished regions of South Africa to say that life as a university student is the hardest thing she had ever done.
Each Student is Different
Helping students navigate their way through unique scenarios means that we must provide individualized support to each scholar—through customized services or technology solutions, on-campus support staff, or second- and third- year Dell Young Leader peer mentors. If we are truly committed to addressing extraordinary circumstances in order to ensure each Dell Young Leader graduates from university, it requires an exceptional commitment by the foundation and its program officers. Every year we must work in tangible ways to improve the level of support beyond the check to better meet the needs of these inspiring young men and women. These are not programs that can be managed from afar.
South Africa is still working to make good on the promise of a nation of equal opportunity for all. We must all work together to deliver on that promise. We are aware that the lessons we’ve been fortunate enough to earn in South Africa carry with them a commitment to continue work that will have an even greater impact in this young democracy. Our hope is that graduates of the Dell Young Leaders program will embrace that responsibility and set lofty expectations for the next generation.
- CASE STUDY: Dell Young Leader: Gadaffi Nkosi
- CASE STUDY: Dell Young Leader: Snegugu Vilakazi
- GIVING REPORT: Urban Education: South Africa
- VIDEO: Dell Young Leader – Bongeka Ndlovu
- VIDEO: Dell Young Leader – Nomzamo Dladla
- BLOG POST: Getting to and through college – Dell Young Leaders program supports high-potential students in South Africa
- BLOG POST: Education in South Africa: Quality schooling shouldn’t be about luck
- BLOG POST: Dell Young Leaders: Peer mentors are a key ingredient of success
- BLOG POST: South African education: Universities must better support students
- BLOG POST: Dell Young Leaders: Backstories and dreams for the future