Focused on breaking down barriers, San José Aspires enables students in underserved neighborhoods to set goals and chart a path to academic success from 9th grade to graduation by providing a performance-based scholarship program that educates them about college and career choices, as well as individual mentorship and counseling. At its core, SJ Aspires aims to change students’ attitudes and behaviors related to graduating high school and succeeding in post-secondary education and the Silicon Valley workforce.
SJ Aspires charts a college-going path by offering scholarship dollars for actions students take to align themselves with academic success. When they graduate, those dollars can help them overcome financial barriers to college. Guideposts present opportunities for students to aggregate “scholar dollars” by highlighting decisions and outcomes that will put them on a college-going path, such as strong academic performance, taking core A-G classes required for CSU admission, completing modules in an evidence-based curriculum, applying for financial assistance programs, and participating in extracurricular activities that bolster their college applications. Students can earn up to $5,000 in scholarships to defray the costs of tuition, textbooks, transportation, fees, and/or living expenses.
San José students from low-income families face enormous barriers to college. Only 30% complete any post-secondary program within six years of their high school graduation. On average, these students receive 12 minutes of college counseling over their four-year tenure. Most lack college-educated parents or family members who can offer guidance. Low-income students are two times less likely–and Latinx and African-American students three times less likely–than their peers to earn a bachelor’s degree.
Like all San José Public Library programs, SJ Aspires has been designed and implemented using an equity lens to ensure that impacts are greatest in communities that are traditionally underserved and underrepresented in San José and Silicon Valley, particularly among people of color and low-income demographics.
To date, SJ Aspires has served over 1,600 high school students.
A total of 260 students participated in the SJ Aspires pilot program as 12th graders in 2019-20. Of these students, 163 earned financial incentives, and 59 students have claimed their rewards and are enrolled in community college or four-year colleges and universities. The remaining students may yet claim their scholarship funds after enrolling in post-secondary education.
In 2021, SJ Aspires was expanded to include more than 1,150 students, including 220 students in the Class of 2025 and 392 students in the Class of 2024 from William C. Overfelt High School — a Title 1 school in a low-income community in East San Jose — as well as 141 students in the class of 2025, 183 students in the class of 2024, and 236 students in the class of 2023 at San Jose High School.
While SJ Aspires is built upon national research findings of the key indicators critical to high school graduation, post-secondary education enrollment, SJPLF strives to ensure that the program is achieving its ultimate goal of preparing San Jose students for the high-demand jobs that will allow them to stay in Silicon Valley. To that end, the Foundation has contracted with the John W. Gardner Center for Youth and Their Communities at Stanford University to conduct an external evaluation of the program.
The SJ Aspires program is made possible in part through the generosity of the following organizations and individuals.