Low-income Alabama students are achieving their collegiate dreams—learn more

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Alabama students
The exact moment a VIDAL Access/ John Carroll student was admitted to Columbia University. (VIDAL Access)

For many low-income students, college is a dream that’s just out of reach. Enter VIDAL Access, a Birmingham-based nonprofit that’s changing the game by providing free college consulting to students and schools that need it most. Read on to learn how this incredible nonprofit helps low-income Alabama students realize their collegiate dreams, whether community college, a state university or the Ivy League!

The situation

students
LuCasta Manning and Lance Beverly of Vidal Access at Jackson-Olin High School. (Bham Now)

In the United States, high school students receive an average of just 38 minutes of college counseling per year due to two primary factors: 

1.  High school counselors have overwhelming caseloads. Indeed, while the American School Counselor Association recommends a 250:1 student-to-counselor ratio, the Alabama average is 408:1.

2.  High school counselors have overwhelming responsibilities. Consequently, only 22% of a public school counselor’s time can be dedicated to college counseling.

Accordingly, VIDAL Access, a 501(c)(3) college access nonprofit based in Greater Birmingham, describes its problem statement as follows: Overwhelming caseloads + Overwhelming responsibilities = Underwhelming student support.

The solution

VIDAL Access
(Jacob Blankenship / Bham Now)

To combat the preceding problem, VIDAL Access’s primary model is to offer an elite-level, in-school college consulting experience for low-income and middle-class students. “Put differently, we aim to provide low-income students with the level of college consulting support that affluent families often seek in the private market,” notes Lance Beverly, an Alabama native, Harvard graduate, Yale Educator Award recipient, and the Founder and CEO of VIDAL Access.

Beverly intimately understands the struggles of low-income youth—most of whom come from single-parent homes, like him. His acute understanding of the problem, combined with the resulting empathy, spearheads his passion for college access. In layering these facts on top of his love for Alabama, Beverly left his leadership role in Manhattan and came back home to pay homage to his late grandmother (Vida Beverly) and launch the nonprofit organization in 2019, with the dream of building VIDAL into Alabama’s premier college access organization.

To illustrate the value-add consulting services that VIDAL Access provides its students (and parents), look no further than the following list of services:

● CommonApp Essay Assistance● Financial Aid Assistance
● Supplemental Essays (i.e., school-specific essays)● Academic Advisory Assistance
● College List Development â— Extracurricular Advising
● SAT/ACT Study Regimen â— Recommendation Letter Prep
● Resume Building â— Interview Preparation
● Advocacy Calls â— College Selection
● Scholarship Applications â— Transitioning to College

VIDAL Access is making an impact in The Magic City. Jackson-Olin (L) & John Carroll (R). (Bham Now)

While VIDAL’s primary model is to deliver these services on the grounds of its partnering high schools, families at non-partnering schools can also enjoy these services. For those with the financial means, a fee-for-service package will be developed for the student, with all proceeds going towards programming costs for students demonstrating significant financial need—such as this all-expenses-paid trip for a VIDAL student and parent who needed to visit Northeastern and Colgate before finalizing a college decision in Spring 2022.

In some cases, as with low-income students at Vestavia Hills High School and the Indian Springs School, VIDAL had the capacity to help them earn acceptances into CalTech and Brown University, respectively, without charging a fee—and despite neither high school being formal VIDAL partners. 

Once more, however, the broader vision is to partner with as many high-need schools as possible to provide low-income students with much-needed support around pathways to post-secondary education, including trade schools.

“My dream is for VIDAL Access consultants to be in as many Alabama high schools as possible, particularly of the Title I variety. The need is too great, and our work is too vital.”

Lance Beverly, Founder & CEO of VIDAL Access

Learn more—visit VIDAL Access’ website.

Life-changing Experiences: VIDAL Dreamers Cohort

VIDAL Access students on the way to Washington DC. (VIDAL Access)

VIDAL Access isn’t just changing lives with in-school services; it is also helping students gain knowledge outside of the classroom. Through its Dream Initiative program, which is spearheaded by key board members Spencer Marzouk (CEO of ThinkLP; Harvard Business School, ‘22) and Phillip Ensler (E.D of JFCA and Representative of House District 74), VIDAL Access takes a small cohort to both New York City and Washington, DC for an unforgettable trip filled with life-changing experiences.

Notably, students have the rare chance to visit Google offices, tour institutions like Howard University, meet White House officials, visit the set of Good Morning America, observe the New York Times headquarters, and see the hustle and bustle of the New York Stock Exchange.

After the all-expenses-paid trip, these high-achieving rising seniors get (free) access to a full year of individualized college consulting and ACT/SAT preparation to help them be the first in their families to attend college. Birmingham and Montgomery-area students are selected through a rigorous application process, so interested parties are encouraged to keep VIDAL’s Dream Initiative on their radar!

Elite Acceptances + Thousands of Students Helped

On an individual level, VIDAL’s college consulting support has helped students earn acceptances at top-notch schools. For some heartwarming fun, check out these amazing acceptance reactions that make us do a lil’ dance! See below!

On an aggregate level, VIDAL Access has served over 6,000 Alabama high school students in the past three academic years (AY 20-21, AY 21-22, and AY 22-23) across. Down in Montgomery, at Robert E. Lee High School, VIDAL helped increase its FAFSA rate from 15.7% to 62% in just 4 school days in April 2022. 

At John Carroll Catholic High School (JCCHS), a socioeconomically-diverse Catholic school in Birmingham, VIDAL has made a tremendous impact on its college-going culture.

To give you an idea of the difference John Carroll Catholic High School’s partnership with VIDAL has made, here are some numbers: 

  • The year before the partnership began: JCCHS’s reported gift aid (scholarships + grants) was $3.63M.
  • In the first year of partnership (academic year 2021-22), VIDAL helped increase that number 107% to $7.53M, with 75% of seniors receiving gift aid.
  • In academic year 2022-23, JCCHS reported $11.37M in gift aid, with nearly 66% of seniors receiving gift aid. 

Top-tier acceptances have been a bright spot, too, with 4 Notre Dame acceptances, 3 Ivy League acceptances, 2 Boston College acceptances, and favorable decisions to other great schools like Vanderbilt, CalTech, Duke, Wake Forest, Emory, Georiga Tech, Middlebury, Colgate and Northeastern.  

How YOU can get involved

Alabama students
(Jacob Blankenship / Bham Now)
  • If you are a student or parent seeking college consulting services, and you are not associated with a VIDAL partnering high school, contact VIDAL Access.
  • Donate here to help VIDAL Access and Alabama high school students thrive. Money goes towards programming costs to better support students with the greatest need!
  • If you are a parent and know your child’s school would benefit from VIDAL Access’s services, follow Lance’s advice:

“Contact your school principal, superintendent, and school board. There are no excuses as to why our public schools cannot partner to offer kids more support for college admissions and career exploration, particularly when $3.14 billion dollars has been poured into Alabama schools via COVID relief funding.”

Find out more about VIDAL Access and how it’s helping local high school students shine–visit their website, Facebook, Instagram + LinkedIn.

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