Our view: Behrend program bridges key gap

October 16, 2018

Being smart enough to win admission to college is just the start. No matter a student’s potential, each one enters on different levels of the playing field.

Students who cannot afford the steep costs of education might not make it to graduation day. And students who are the first in their family to go to college might have no one to turn to for guidance, become overwhelmed and give up.

When that happens, this society’s great leveler, education, is diminished. And that is something Erie, with galling poverty rates and persistent racial disparities, cannot afford if it is to achieve the place it seeks in the modern, global economy.

That is why we find news of new investment in a student success program at Penn State Behrend so encouraging.

As reporter David Bruce detailed, Behrend and Erie Insurance will invest $2.5 million and $1.5 million, respectively, in a newly created program called Excelerate designed to support disadvantaged students through their first crucial year of college at Behrend and also offer internship and work opportunities to ensure their success after graduation.

A portion of the money will be used to expand Behrend’s existing Pathways to Student Success: Summer Start program, which helps Behrend students from low-income families or those who are the first in their families to attend college. Participants take summer classes before and after their freshman year, work with academic advisers, and earn scholarships and academic credits. They acquire skills through work opportunities on and off campus.

Another portion of the Excelerate funding will go toward paid internships at local small businesses and nonprofit organizations and also support faculty-advised groups of students who will help local businesses and community groups craft solutions to business problems and conduct research.

The program seems structured to deliver benefits to students and local businesses and nonprofits alike, and also boost the most important factor in helping students “better their lives” — an education, as Erie Insurance CEO Tim NeCastro said.

If successful, it could help put “Erie on the map as a place to help people transition from high school to college and from college to a career,” NeCastro said.

Erie Insurance is helping to rewrite Erie’s story in so many ways, through its leadership of the Erie Downtown Development Corp., which seeks to remake the downtown; its investments in the Erie Innovation District and new $135 million office building on East Sixth Street; and through its collaboration with Bishop Dwane Brock’s Eagle’s Nest program for young people.

This latest investment marks an entry in another important chapter in Erie’s rebirth and addresses a problem that badly needs resolved — the impediments to success faced by Erie’s disadvantaged young people.