The Higher Education Initiative

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Higher Education Initiative (HEI) is a signature YBAA program that was implemented first, under the title of the Summer Service Project, in Los Angeles in 2009.

It affords current Yale College students the opportunity to meet, mentor, and encourage youth to go to college, while helping to identify prospective applicants for Yale College and/or other colleges and universities. In so doing, HEI allows YBAA to promote the importance of education and the message that college is for everyone. Since its inception, HEI has taken place in the following cities:

  • 2009 Summer, Los Angeles, CA
  • 2010 Summer, Chicago, IL
  • 2011 Summer, Chicago, IL
  • 2012 Summer, Seattle, WA
  • 2013 Spring Break, Seattle, WA
  • 2013 Summer, Washington, DC

The purpose of the HEI is two-fold. First, the Initiative encourages foster youth and alumni of the foster care system to seek higher education by sharing information about the post-secondary options, the college application process, and the college experience. The Initiative is unique in that Yale College students create and deliver the presentations and share their personal stories during half-day workshops. The youth attendees are receptive to the information presented during the workshops because it is presented by relative peers who may look like them, be close in age, and share similar personal struggles that they are willing to discuss.

The second purpose of the HEI is to allow Yale undergraduates to “pay it forward” under the mentorship of Yale alumni. The vast majority of the students who participate in the HEI have no personal knowledge of the child welfare system when they join the project but, through reading assignments; presentations by social workers, attorneys and others; visits to dependency court; talks with the foster youth and former foster youth; and, intensive discussions; they develop a working knowledge of the system and the challenges facing youth in care. The Yale students also establish mentoring relationships with the alumni who help to administer the HEI.

Since 2009, approximately 365 youth in or from the foster care system have participated in the HEI. The workshops are empowering. Written feedback from these young people has been overwhelmingly positive over the years. Many attendees have commented that the workshops exceeded their expectations and encouraged them to seek higher education although they had never seriously considered going to college before attending the workshop. An estimated 5% of attendees have actually taken steps to pursue higher education, including vocational school, community college and 4-year universities, after attending the workshops.

Approximately, sixty-one Yale undergraduates have participated in the HEI since 2009. Many of them have gone on to join service professions, such as teaching. They also continue to volunteer with Yale through community service events.

The HEI is funded by the ORD Leadership Forum. It is sponsored by the Afro-American Cultural Center at Yale and YBAA. HEI is conducted in honor of Willard “Woody” Brittain ’70.