_Editors note: This story is the first installment in a six-part series on CSUâ€™s Dream Project.
Pre-collegiate programs are what saved Ivan Ildefonso from a life without higher education._
â€œIf it wasnâ€™t for (them), I would probably be in jail, or I would probably be a drop out, to be honest,â€ said the CSU sophomore sociology major.
Ildefonso is now a mentor in the Dream Project, a student-initiated campus group started in November 2009 to help local low-income and first-generation high school students through the college application process.
â€œI used to be them,â€ Ildefonso said. â€œI used to struggle in schoolâ€¦ To me, Iâ€™m achieved now. Iâ€™m in college. I just want to contribute back to my community.â€
The original Dream Project finds its roots in the University of Washington at Seattle. Its founder, after emigrating from Africa to the United States, was taken aback by the lack of diversity on campus. When four CSU students caught wind of his efforts to encourage disadvantaged high school students to attend college, they decided to implement the idea in Fort Collins.
Dream Project mentors confront an increasingly grim higher education forecast for the nation and Colorado. Census data released in 2009 indicates that middle-income and poor families were hit hardest by the nationâ€™s recent recession, which widened the gap between the richest and poorest Americans. In the past two years, the poverty rate has climbed by 2 percent.
According to a 2006 study released by CU-Denver, Coloradoâ€™s ethnic achievement gap is â€œbigger than in most other American states and has not decreased in any meaningful way over the past 5-10 years.â€
Latino and black students are performing about two full grade levels behind the average white student, placing Colorado 38th out of 50 states in terms of its achievement gap.
â€œEven in the few grades where the gap is decreasing, the progress is so slow that, at the current rate of improvement, several more generations of Colorado students will leave school with sub-standard skills before we solve this problem,â€ it read.
Tuition rates are also challenges to students. A recent University of Denver study found that if Coloradoâ€™s fiscal situation doesnâ€™t change, the stateâ€™s public universities could receive no public funding by 2025.
This past year, CSU students received more than 20 percent tuition hikes, and at least 9 percent hikes are slated for the next three years.
In 2005, a CSU student paid $3,381 in yearly tuition. In 2015, it will be approximately $6,874.
â€œThis is the second week that mentors have begun meeting with their students,â€ said Edna MuÃ±oz, head of the Dream Projectâ€™s steering committee. â€œTheyâ€™re building that relationship and getting to know each other.â€
Meetings with the groupâ€™s 120 participants currently consist of brainstorming strategies for getting accepted to college and drawing up plans to overcome any barriers they are running into in the application process.
â€œWeâ€™re sitting down and actually working with them,â€ said Yahaira Membreno, a sophomore social work major and Dream Project mentor. â€œThis semester is when everythingâ€™s going to happen for them.â€
Senior Reporter Andrew Carrera can be reached at email@example.com
By the numbers
Dollar increase in tuition from 2005 to 2015.
Percentage increase in tuition from 2010 to 2015.
Position Colorado is in out of 50 states in terms of the ethnic achievement gap.
Number of Dream Project scholars.