College Access and Success

Low-income students are often behind their wealthier peers when they begin kindergarten and too often remain behind throughout their academic careers. The CAFE believes that we must do more at every stage to change this cycle. By meeting individuals where they are and investing in organizations that address the larger needs, we can impart the most change, together.


While the evidence is overwhelming that investment in college education pays in a big way both for individuals and for society, in the U.S. and in Illinois, fewer than a third of black adults and fewer than a quarter of Latino adults have an associate degree or higher. Over the last five years in Illinois, black enrollment in higher education has actually decreased by 26 percent. Additionally, college completion rates have remained flat and achievement gaps between groups have persisted or widened.


A simple truth has remained constant over the last several decades – educational attainment is the most reliable route to an improved standard of living. By providing greater postsecondary access and success opportunities for our young scholars, we can build stronger economies and thriving communities.T

The CAFE invests in organizations that are aligned with our mission/values and have demonstrated significant impact in the college access and success space. While we know this is a complex issue, we leverage the capacities of these organizations to employ a broad-spectrum approach in our efforts to affect change.


Chicago Scholars is transforming the leadership landscape of our city by resolving the fundamental barriers to success for academically driven, first generation college students from under resourced communities. Through college counseling, mentoring, and by providing a supportive community to our Scholars through each phase of our program: College Access: Launch, College Persistence: Lift and College to Careers: Lead, we ensure that they realize their full potential as students and leaders.

View their website to learn more.

A third of students in Chicago’s public schools drop out. Students who drop out earn roughly $1 million less than high school graduates. Furthermore, out-of- school, out-of- work youths collectively cost Americans about $1.6 trillion in increased social services and lost earnings and taxes over the course of their lifetimes. But there is a solution. Using near-peer mentors in Chicago’s most under-served schools to address specific areas that lead to students dropping out, City Year helps close the gap, between what students need to succeed and what schools are designed to provide.

View their website to learn more.

While there are often opportunities available to students at the top of their class, OneGoal prioritizes students whose college prospects are extremely limited. Our cohorts enter the program with an average of 2.7 GPA and a 840 SAT score. To make college graduation a reality for all students, we need an in-school solution that is both rigorous and scalable. OneGoal offers an innovative and proven solution at a low cost.

View their website to learn more.

The Academy Group provides hundreds of youth the opportunity to go from the excluded to the exceptional. Fueled by profits from businesses founders Mark and Kimbra Walter have contributed, the Academy Group provides academic support, mentoring and work experience to scholars during a 14-year-journey from fourth grade to career. The Academy Group guarantees students who meet program requirements a job post college graduation.

View their website to learn more.

Bottom Line was founded in 1997 as a small nonprofit organization supporting 25 high school seniors in Boston and has grown into a nationally recognized organization serving nearly 7,700 first-generation students from Massachusetts, New York City, and Chicago. Bottom Line’s goal is to dramatically transform urban communities by producing thousands of new career-ready college graduates. Through an intensive, one-on-one approach using a codified curriculum, Bottom Line advisors support students from college application all the way through college graduation.

View their website to learn more.

The Partnership for College Completion is a nonprofit organization that catalyzes and champions policies, systems and practices to ensure all students in and around Chicago – particularly low-income, first-generation students – graduate from college and achieve their career aspirations.

View their website to learn more.
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