Metropolitan State University of Denver strives to be a preeminent public urban university, serving the diverse local community with high-quality access to higher education. One way it helps traditionally hard-to-reach students succeed is by partnering with outside organizations that can support them in the classroom and in their transition to college life.
One partnership, however, provides a range of benefits to the wider MSU Denver community, residents of the city, and prospective college students as young as five years old.
The Colorado “I Have A Dream” Foundation has been serving cohorts of students in Denver for nearly 30 years, working to support their needs when it comes to physical and mental health, nutrition, transportation, socio-emotional factors, tax questions, legal concerns, and more. The holistic support helps eliminate barriers to academic success, giving classroom teachers in the K-12 system more time to focus purely on their teaching.
The foundation identifies a cohort of students in kindergarten, providing that support through their entire educational experience until they go to college. This means MSU Denver can recruit a cohort of students that is more likely to be ready for college-level work and still benefitting from outside supports from the foundation. The partnership also gives MSU Denver’s education and social work students high-quality field experience while they are progressing toward a degree.
Stephen Jordan, president of MSU Denver, said the school is a teaching institution, focusing on theory and practice. The partnership with Colorado “I Have A Dream” opens doors for current students as much as it benefits the institution by preparing prospective students.
“Giving students an opportunity to get involved in practice gives them a chance to enrich their learning experience and gives them a boost on job applications,” Jordan said. “We are the beneficiaries, and our students are the beneficiaries as well.”
The “I Have A Dream” Foundation was founded in 1981 and counts 16 affiliates serving students from low-income backgrounds across the United States and in New Zealand. In Colorado, the Denver-based chapter is joined by another in Boulder. Other states with affiliates are California, Nevada, Arizona, Idaho, Iowa, Wisconsin, Florida, Virginia, New Jersey, Oregon, and New York. The District of Columbia also has an affiliate.
The national foundation is in the middle of its “Dream Big” fundraising campaign that aims to raise $50 million in five years, doubling the number of affiliates and tripling the number of students it serves. Part of the expansion plan is to forge new partnerships with universities like MSU Denver, which has become increasingly intertwined with Colorado “I Have A Dream” since one of its trustees joined the affiliate as a founding member of its board. Today, Jordan said a dean, a faculty member, and an administrator sit on the board, helping think about how the university can better partner with the organization.
Jordan sees the partnership as a way to create a pipeline for local kids to achieve higher levels of academic attainment and improve their outcomes. For the first 27 years of its existence, Colorado “I Have A Dream” selected 40 kindergartners from low-income backgrounds for its program each year. Now it is scaling up, serving every student in each successive Strive Prep - Ruby Hill kindergarten class as they work through their K-12 education. At the national level, 90% of “Dreamers” earn high school diplomas and 67% of them go on to enroll in college, far surpassing the statistics for their peers from similar backgrounds.
“It’s hard work to partner, but the benefits can be tremendous,” Jordan said. “These kinds of programs can really supplement what you’re trying to do, and in many cases go far beyond your capacity to provide services.”
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