By Catalina Righter
Starting with the Class of 2020, the Office of Admissions at Washington College will make a college education possible for a group of 20 students who could not consider it otherwise. This initiative, called George’s Brigade, is “an Admissions and Financial Aid program, that will encourage high-achieving inner-city youth to apply with friends and have their applications considered on a group basis,” according to a press release on the WC website. “The requirement we’re putting on them is that they have to be academically successful here and if that is the case, we will meet their full financial aid,” said Vice President of Enrollment Management Satyajit Dattagupta.
President of the College Sheila Bair announced the program in her inaugural address on Sept. 26 and said that the program is not only to help these students financially but “because we know their transition to a small rural school will be smoothed and enhanced if they can share it with one or more friends.”
These groups can be as small as two and as large as seven or eight. In this first year of the program all of these groups, once admitted, will be placed in the same peer mentor group with the same faculty advisor, “which is why we’re limiting the group to 20 for the first year,” said Dattagupta.
These application groups will come from three parts of the country. “We are working with community benefit organizations – high schools from inner city Baltimore, parts of California, and Newark, NJ – through contacts that [Bair] has and the Admissions Office has,” said Dattagupta. “We’re looking for students who come from backgrounds who, had they not received this kind of funding, a WC education would not have been possible. For the first year, the goal is recruit 20 total students… say five or six from Newark, five or six from Baltimore, and some from California as a group.”
Though Bair referrred to these groups of students as “friends,” at least in the first year, the groups who apply will be chosen by their guidance counselors. “We’re telling them what the program is and we’re asking them to select students to apply for this program based on what we’re describing,” said Dattagupta.
“The first step is that we’re bringing some students here on Nov. 14 for the third Admissions open-house,” he said. “It’s a group called the All-stars. They are based in Newark and…they will see campus then go back and determine which students will be a good fit for us and then they will apply to the program.”
If the group is not accepted into the College, Admissions will still consider the individual applications of the students. “We will not penalize a student for being academically very strong,” he said.
Dattagupta feels that students will benefit when they “have a core group of students that they know because of the community they live in and the high school they’re going to, so you have the core support network. It’s not just bringing them here, it’s keeping them here all four years. It’s the ability to identify to a core group, in addition to being a WC student, that will just enhance their ability to be retained at WC.”
He said that it is however important for George’s Brigade members to be “WC students first and George’s Brigade second,” and that the program will be a “secondary network.” He said that the specific details of the on-campus support for these students is being worked on “as we speak.” Vice President for Student Affairs Dr. Xavier Cole could not be reached for comment in time for publication.
According to the WC press release on Bair’s inauguration, programs like George’s Brigade and the newly announced “Damn the Debt” initiative are “key to preserving the liberal arts tradition, which ‘differentiates the American higher education system from others and is one of the reasons why that system is the envy of the world,’ [said Bair.]”
Dattagupta said of the effect of the program on WC’s reputation in the community, “George’s Brigade will attract some of the most hardworking and brightest students from all over the country. For these specific students, George’s Brigade provides a pathway that they may not have had otherwise.”