College Bound Empowers Students to Achieve a Life of Choice & Opportunities

Those of us who went to college were mentored through high school to ensure we had the credits we needed and could pass all the entrance exams. Many of us had a support network that helped us get through the difficulties of higher education, manage the financials, and move into a career. But what if we hadn’t had that help? How likely would it have been for us to navigate that enormous undertaking alone? Not likely. This is why most college-eligible, low-income teens don’t complete higher education.

The good news is the St. Louis nonprofit, College Bound (CB), is partnering with these young people to change that reality. This organization helps promising, economically challenged high school students achieve bachelors’ degrees from high-quality colleges and universities, and go on to successful careers. Through personalized coaching, holistic programs, and a multi-year commitment, CB empowers students to achieve a life of choice and opportunities.

Through the Berges Family Foundation’s youth empowerment initiative, we support College Bound. We see how the organization’s caring, comprehensive programs help kids overcome the complicated and barrier-laden college prep and admissions processes, and feel hopeful for a brighter future.

“We especially love College Bound’s high-school-to-career approach of working with each student for up to nine years, offering individualized mentoring and coaching, workshops, math camps, free college courses, ACT prep, tutoring, mental health services, career readiness, and more. It is truly rewarding to witness bright, motivated, first-generation St. Louis high school students excel at school, achieve degrees, and go on to promising careers,” said Elizabeth Mannen Berges.

About College Bound & Its Powerful Impact

College Bound’s founder, Lisa Orden Zarin, realized during her son’s college preparation and admissions experience, that navigating the opportunity of higher education was extremely challenging, even for someone of privilege. She wondered how children from the low-income neighborhoods where she grew up managed the process. Then she found out, they don’t – less than 10% complete their college degrees.

When she compared that number to the 75% of high-income students graduating from college, she was determined to change the disparity and bridge the seemingly impossible gap. In 2006, she founded College Bound to achieve this lofty goal.

The CB programs start for teens in the summer between ninth and tenth grade and move with them through college and thereafter. During their time together, CB advisors, mentors, staff, volunteers, and tutors help students stay the course, overcome adversity, realize their potential, gain mental strength, and navigate the challenges of higher education.

To do this, the CB team follows a curriculum that took years to develop and offers a comprehensive support system and safety net for students to work toward specific objectives, with hundreds of steps customized to each student’s needs.

CB’s impact is powerful! What started with two high schools and 36 students has evolved into serving 35 St. Louis area high schools and individually coaching 540 students, annually.

Today, CB students are graduating college at a rate nearly 500% higher than their demographics would predict. Now that’s success! One child at a time, one degree at a time, changing entire communities with an individualized depth of care.  

2020-2021 COVID School Year College Bound Student Successes

During the 2020-2021 school year, despite the pandemic’s life-altering effect and educational barriers, College Bound students carried on with determination and succeeded.

  • 100% of students in CB’s 2020­−2021 classes graduated from high school.
  • 91% of the CB Class of 2020 matriculated to college within six months of graduation.
  • 50% of CB collegians graduate college within 6 years.
  • 80% of those graduates cross the finish line in 3-5 years.
  • 47% of CB’s current college students are projected to have zero debt upon graduation.

“Everything we do is based on who and where our students are at any given time. There are no hard-and-fast rules or an inflexible task list to be followed. Instruction comes from people who know the students, so it’s tailored to each student. Our instructors, tutors, and counselors have our students’ best interests at heart, and the students trust them, feel comfortable with them, and can be vulnerable with them, which is why the program works,” said Sarah Plumb, Senior Manager of Grants and Communications.

Meet a Few College Bound Students & Find Out Where They Are Today

College Bound’s nurturing, guidance, and depth of care support their students in pursuing their dreams; to never give up, and know that there is always help available when the going gets tough. The CB team has sent countless youth into the world and watched them succeed against all odds. See a few of their stories here, check out CB’s Student Stories page, or go to the students’ personal narrative page for more.

College Bound, with Support from Berges Family Foundation, Provides Evolving, Innovative Programs

Jenny Weber, College Bound VP and CDO, explained, “The Berges Family Foundation helps College Bound hire and retain experts who specialize in college-prep education, tutoring, and mental health, and work one-on-one with the students and their families. These relationships are critical to trust and the success of our students.

Additionally, thanks to the Berges Family Foundation’s support, we are able to expand our offerings with specially designed curriculums and evolving, innovative programs, and continue to focus on meeting students where they are, meeting supporters where they are, and sharing our mission.”

“When aspirational young people are able to fulfill their college dreams and career goals, everyone benefits. We’re proud to be St. Louis-grown, and somewhat selfishly, we’re happy that many of our alumni choose to start their own families and careers here. The Berges family is helping us make this happen,” Jenny said.

“College Bound makes a life-changing, generation-changing difference in each young student’s life, which affects the entire community by spreading hope, love, and empowerment with lasting benefits.” – Elizabeth Mannen Berges.

How You Can Help College Bound

You can help CB in its mission by becoming a Sticker, donating, providing grants, becoming a corporate or educational partner; attending, sponsoring, or hosting a fundraiser (Trivia Night is November 13, 2021), or by speaking to someone on the team about exactly where their need is greatest. Every ounce of effort and every dollar matters to enriching the lives of these youth, their families, their communities, and our St. Louis community. 314-361-4441