Clearing the Hurdles to Higher Ed

Higher Heights has helped more than 1,000 minority and low-income students from New Haven prepare for college. It is now bringing its model to school districts around the state.

Higher Heights builds a community of college-bound students. Photo provided by Higher Heights.

Low-income and minority students can face a daunting set of hurdles when applying to college. Their parents are often unfamiliar with the complex process of searching for the best higher education fit, putting together an attractive application, and securing the needed scholarships and loans. At their schools, guidance counselors are typically assigned caseloads of hundreds of students and cannot provide the individualized attention students need.

Thirteen years ago, Higher Heights stepped in to help underrepresented college-bound students in Greater New Haven. Now, the organization is bringing its model to other districts and college access programs around the state with training programs that help counselors better support minority, English Language Learners, and low-income students.

"It's very exciting. We've been doing good work in New Haven and now we're going to have a statewide reach," says Executive Director Chaka Felder.

Higher Heights is offering an online curriculum and membership network to districts that will promote the best practices the organization has learned over the past decade. It is also offering to provide districts with in-service counselors to help reduce caseloads for overburdened guidance offices.

The organization has worked with more than 1,000 students through a variety of mentoring and preparatory programs. More than 75 percent of the students come from single-parent households, 95 percent are a minority, and nearly all (98 percent) are the first generation in their families to attend college, according to Felder. The program has a ninety-percent college enrollment rate and an acceptance rate of above 80 percent, Felder says.

"We are looking forward to providing our services to more districts so that we can help them increase the number of students applying to college, specifically underrepresented first-generation and undocumented students," says Felder.

In addition to providing test preparation and application assistance, Higher Heights mentors take students on college visits and help them navigate financial aid and scholarship options. The organization has also built up an alumni network that helps students build connections into careers.

Higher Heights is funded primarily through grants from foundations including The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven.

To learn more about Higher Heights, visit its profile on

Did You Know?

Seventy-seven percent of students of color in Greater New Haven graduate from high school in four years, as compared to 90 percent of white students, according to the Greater New Haven Community Index 2016

This story is part of the Inspiration Monday story series produced by The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven.