Innovative Partnership Behind Viterbo University’s Boys & Girls Clubs Pathway to a Bachelor’s Degree
The prospect of getting four years of free tuition at Viterbo University has captured the imagination of members of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater La Crosse, from members on the verge of high school graduation down to youngsters whose college days are a decade or more away.
Viterbo University President Glena Temple announced in fall 2019 that the university would provide a four-year, full-tuition scholarship to the annual winner of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater La Crosse Youth of the Year Award. After that announcement, the club’s executive director, Jake Erickson, knew there was a growing sense of hope and possibility among club members.
Erickson believes that club members are taking the prospect of college seriously, maybe for the first time in their lives. Many club members, especially in the neighborhood around Viterbo, come from families in which higher education has never been thought of as an option, but suddenly it’s possible.
The reaction of the community to the scholarship has been tremendous. I did not anticipate this buzz throughout the organization with the kids. The reaction of the kids has been pretty amazing.”
Jake Erickson, executive director, Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater La Crosse
The Youth of the Year scholarship is just the beginning. Viterbo hopes to add more scholarships dedicated to Mathy Center club members. In addition to scholarships, high-school-aged club members also could get the chance to get a jump on their higher education by taking a free summer college class offered especially for them. They could earn college credit over the summer that would bolster any credits they earn during the school year through taking advanced placement classes.
Viterbo University aims to offer at least one scholarship per year to a graduating high school senior who has been a member for at least three years at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater La Crosse branch at the Mathy Center.
To be eligible, students must complete the Be Great: Graduate mentorship program the club offers. The recipients of the scholarships also must participate in special mentoring programs at Viterbo.
Recipients will have the option to start their college education at Western Technical College and transfer to Viterbo, with scholarship money applied toward Western tuition as well as costs at Viterbo.
Scholarship recipients will be required to work or volunteer at a Boys & Girls Clubs branch for at least 150 hours per year.
Viterbo University already goes to great lengths to ensure student success, but Boys & Girls Clubs members who earn scholarships will have advisors dedicated to working exclusively with them.
The academic support and mentoring is vital to the success of the Pathway to Bachelor’s Degree scholarship program. The scholarships are likely to be awarded to students who come from a less privileged background, students who might not have had anybody in their family go to college before.
If scholarship recipients choose to attend Western Technical College for their first two years of higher education, they still will have extra mentoring, both from the Viterbo advisor and from Viterbo’s representative on the Western campus, who is dedicated to ensuring a smooth transition for transfer students.
Boys & Girls Clubs members will get a chance to earn college credit by taking free courses offered by Viterbo University and taught by faculty members.
Plans are to offer one or two six-week courses per summer. The classes will largely focus on topics for which high schools students can get credits they can use at either Viterbo, another accredited university/college or at Western Technical College.
The summer college credit class program was inspired by the close partnership that has been in place since 2005 between Viterbo University and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater La Crosse, but club members from branches other than the Mathy Center are eligible to take the courses.
Western a Vital Partner in Mathy Pathway Program
The Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater La Crosse Youth of the Year scholarship at Viterbo University could be awarded to a member from any of the organization’s branches. However, Viterbo plans to provide the Amie L. Mathy Center club members with additional scholarships. Recipients can choose to pursue their pathway to a bachelor’s degree at Viterbo or attend Western Technical College for two years before transferring to Viterbo to complete their bachelor’s degrees.
Serving the least privileged in the community is a big part of Viterbo’s Franciscan ethic, and it’s also part of the missions of Western and the Boys & Girls Clubs. The innovative collaboration between the three organizations to get Mathy club members moving toward earning college degrees is a vital thing for a part of the community that traditionally hasn’t seen as many youths view college as a pathway to success.
It’s shocking how many people don’t have anything past a high school diploma. Our society needs skilled workers and leaders, so we’ve got to help those who are least privileged. Every layer of education adds an element of social mobility. It makes a huge difference.”
Roger Stanford, president, Western Technical College
With the new co-admission arrangement between Western and Viterbo and with scholarships that allow students to start at Western and transfer to Viterbo, students could gain a real advantage when they enter the job market, Stanford said.
It used to be a liberal arts degree of any kind would be a ticket into a good job that might require some on-the-job training. Increasingly, Stanford said, employers don’t offer training and only look at what prospective workers bring to the table on day one. Technical college training can provide valuable skills in many fields that will give students an edge in the employment pool.
“That’s a really big shift, and it’s made technical colleges critical,” Stanford said. “A lot of people see this co-admission agreement as a very smart move. And I love Viterbo because I know it’s the best answer for our students.”
The Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater La Crosse have about 3,400 members (about 20 percent of them in high school), with an average of 800 members coming to the club’s branches on any given day. The organization has five La Crosse locations, a club in West Salem, and a new branch opening in Holmen in fall 2020 that is expected to serve 200 youths on a daily basis.
Starting this year, the Youth of the Year award criteria will include a stronger emphasis on academics to ensure that whoever wins is ready for college. The Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater La Crosse has a relatively new program designed to make sure more teens are ready for life after high school called Be Great: Graduate. It’s a mentoring program offered at Central High School (with potential for expansion) that guides participants toward high school graduation and beyond, getting them to think of “next steps” as they progress toward adulthood.
When Youth of the Year scholarship winners come to Viterbo, they also will have a mentor, an advisor to keep them on track to graduate in four years and keep them thinking about next steps on the pathway to success.
What Boys & Girls Clubs Members Say
Jaborius Norwood, a Central High School junior, has had his eye on going to college since he started high school. Norwood has been coming to the Amie L. Mathy Center Boys & Girls Club on the Viterbo campus since he was in fourth grade, and he’d be thrilled to have the honor of being one of the first recipients of the Youth of the Year scholarship.
“It would mean so much,” said Norwood, who has his eye on studying law. “It would just lift a huge burden off my shoulders. It would do wonders, eliminating a lot of factors that could hold me back.”
Norwood sees the prospect of a scholarship as a huge motivating factor around the club that gets club members thinking more about college as a real possibility. “The cost kind of scares people from going to college,” he said. “People who are less fortunate a lot of times don’t get that chance to go to college.”
Madysen Ryan, a student at La Crosse Logan High School, is active at the Erickson and Northside Elementary club branches, but she’s spent enough time on the Viterbo campus for La Crosse Girlchoir rehearsals and concerts and for Boys & Girls Club guitar recitals to know that Viterbo is her dream school, the start of her path to becoming a teacher.
“I think Viterbo is so cool,” said Ryan, whose sixth-grade choir teacher was a Viterbo graduate. “I just love the campus. I love that it’s close. Being close to home is important.”
The prospect of a full-tuition scholarship at Viterbo boggles Ryan’s mind. “It’s crazy, just crazy,” she said. “I really appreciate that for anybody who gets to have that opportunity. I mean, who wouldn’t want that.”
Central High School student Essence Barthelemy wants to become a teacher, a goal she’s had since she was 7. A Mathy Center club member, she sees the Youth of the Year scholarship and other potential Mathy scholarships as “groundbreaking.”
“I just feel like it’s a really good opportunity,” she said. “Scholarships change the whole picture. I feel it would give me more stability, and I wouldn’t be stressed about paying this and that. And it would give me determination to do my best in everything, to get the most out of an amazing opportunity.”