In 1988, 59 fifth graders in a low-income Maryland school were promised a college education by two wealthy businessmen, recounts the Washington Post. The college “dreamers” were given transportation, tutors, field trips, camps and an advisor who followed them through school.
One would become a doctor. One would become a cellist. One would become a UPS driver. One would kill herself. One would kill his father. One would become a politician. One would become a cop. One would become a drug dealer.
Forty-nine graduated from high school or earned GEDs, surpassing the graduation rate in the area, and almost half enrolled in college. But only 11 “dreamers” earned bachelor’s degrees; three of those went on to earn advanced degrees. Another 12 students completed trade school.
Most of the successful “dreamers” were motivated students before the scholarships were offered. Others, growing up in violent, drug-ridden neighborhoods, followed their peers, not the dream of college.
Many of those who made it to college failed their classes and gave up. That’s typical of similar programs. Nationally, “dream” scholarships have increased high school graduation and college enrollment rates, but have not produced many college graduates, according to the “I Have a Dream” Foundation.
Success can’t be measured by a college diploma, concludes Tracy Proctor, who served as the counselor for the 59 students into adulthood. (When the drug dealer was ready to retire, Proctor got him into trade school.)
The doctor and the pharmacist are successes, for sure. But so are the UPS driver and the Prince George’s police officer. They may not have college degrees, Proctor says, but they have a sense of purpose and ambition.
Where did that drive come from? The series profiles Darone Robinson, the most surprising success story in Proctor’s eyes. Almost kicked out of high school for fighting, Robinson almost flunked out of college. But he couldn’t face telling his mother that he’d failed. So Robinson worked harder, raised his grades, earned an IT degree and now lives a middle-class life with his wife and children. Without Proctor’s help, he might not have made it through high school. Without the scholarship, he might not have started college. But what got him through was something that can’t be given.