Nonprofit helps more than 90 percent of its students graduate from college

With some of the worst educational achievement gaps in the country, Minnesota officials have been working hard over the last few years to promote student achievement in low income neighborhoods and communities of color--though experts say the problem is firmly entrenched and may even extend into a child's college years.

A Minneapolis nonprofit is hoping to help correct a number of these disparities by helping students get into and graduate from college, going beyond just giving scholarships in providing support for those looking to reach their educational goals.

It wasn't so long ago that Wallin Education Partners Development Director Stela Center was working toward some of those goals herself, with the help of the program she's now a leader of.

"I started at the U of M and I was all excited, this is going to be great," she said  "Then, reality check: it’s difficult."

Less than one in five low-income students finish their undergraduate degrees versus about 60 percent of other students, though members of Wallin have over the years raised their graduation rate to nearly 93 percent--a club that Center now finds herself a part of.

The program was founded in 1992 by former Medtronic Chief Executive Officer Win Wallin and evolved from a scholarship program to include counselors and advisors for selected students that remain available throughout their college experience, a change that both students and educational leaders involved with Wallin say has made a huge difference in outcomes.

"Whenever I was ready to kind of give up and drop out, [my adviser] would say, "Oh no, you’re not doing that,'" Center said. "Here’s how we’re going to solve this problem."

Students working with Wallin can attend any college in the five-state area or an historical black college or university.

The nonprofit is also planning to expand across Minnesota and institute a program for two-year colleges at some point in the future.