San Jose Mayor Celebrates Launch of SJ Aspires Program
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April 15, 2021

Media Contact:

Rachel Davis,  Press Secretary, Office of Mayor Sam Liccardo, rachel.davis@sanjoseca.gov, 408.712.9149

SAN JOSÉ, CA - Today, San José Mayor Sam Liccardo was joined by San Jose City Councilmember Magdalena Carrasco (D-5), Maia Harris Special Projects Manager at Jay Paul Company, Stacy Martinet Vice President of Marketing Strategy & Communications at Adobe, Jill Bourne City of San Jose Librarian, and Vito Chiala Principal Overfelt High School, to announce the official launch of the SJ Aspires program. SJ Aspires helps to provide high school students a uniquely impactful experience by giving them access to a self-guided curriculum, supplemental college advising  and guidance, and micro-scholarships as they become college and career-ready young adults.

"San Jose Aspires deploys Silicon Valley ingenuity, performance-based microscholarships, and a digital platform to support the critically important journey of students from low-income families to college," said San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo. "The commitment and generosity of our philanthropic partners will enable San Jose's next generation of diverse innovators and leaders to overcome barriers to educational and career success."

Mayor Sam Liccardo launched SJ Aspires in partnership with the San Jose Public Library and the San José Public Library Foundation to enable youth in underserved neighborhoods to set goals that chart a path toward receiving a post-secondary education and reduce the barriers that disadvantaged students of color face in accessing academic opportunities. SJ Aspires began as a way to reduce financial and informational barriers preventing low-income youth in San Jose from attending college. The program uses a unique system of task-oriented micro-scholarships that align with the students' college-going or post graduation decisions and actions. The San Jose Public Library leads the City's education initiatives and is working with external and internal partners to implement SJ Aspires.

Data from the California Department of Education, San José Evergreen Community College District, and San José State University shows that only 30 percent of San Jose students complete any post-secondary program within six years of high school graduation. Low-income students are twice less likely, with Latino and African-American students three times less likely than their peers to earn a bachelor's degree. Many San Jose public school students do not have college-educated parents and family members to offer guidance and assistance when going through the college-applying process, further highlighting the information gap for students. Many San Jose students are Latinx, and the overwhelming majority are students of color. Two-thirds of San Jose's high school freshmen do not achieve any postsecondary educational success in San Jose--leaving an entire generation of youth of color behind.

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SJ Aspires works through a digital platform for high school students, providing them with virtual signposts about the good decisions and accomplishments that set them on a college-going path and tracking their progress throughout high school. Students earn micro-scholarships, or "Scholar Dollars", for each accomplishment or task completed including maintaining a high GPA, passing A-G courses, completing online modules, applying for college financial aid programs, and participating in extracurricular activities. Upon graduation, the virtual "Scholar Dollars" transform into actual dollars to help offset post-secondary education costs.

During the initial pilot, the program welcomed 270 participants, awarded students up to $500 in scholarships, and sent 59 students to community colleges and universities. Since then, a generous donation from Jay Paul Company in the amount of $2.5 million helped expand the program last August to serve  more than 700 high-need, diverse students at Overfelt High School, San Jose High School, and Opportunity Youth Academy. Thanks to increased funding from organizations such as Adobe, Apple, and Connie and Bob Lurie, SJ Aspires raised over $5.5 million to support the program. Students can now earn up to $5000 in microscholoraships, thanks to the generosity of the program's sponsors.

Stanford University is also partnering with San Jose to study the efficacy of this innovative model in helping high school students make college-oriented choices. The program also works closely with other community partners to assist with parental education, student mentoring, and other support services  that are essential to student success.

Citibank is also working closely with the program to host the students' financial accounts. They are waiving fees and costs associated with the accounts, and will be assisting students with efforts to increase financial literacy as they transition to career-ready adults.

The next steps for the SJ Aspires include:
  • Developing and refining the mobile-optimized platform
  • Expanding the program to a hybrid model with schools and non-profit partners to reach more students city-wide.
  • Creating student financial award accounts in partnership with Citibank.
  • Partnering with Stanford University to continue program evaluation.

To learn more about SJ Aspires, visit here.

To watch the press conference, visit here.

For a full list of donors, visit here.

Maia Harris, Special Projects Manager, Jay Paul Company

"Jay Paul Company is honored and humbled to support this important initiative that is working to close education and equity gaps for underserved youth in San Jose. As a company, our philanthropic efforts support the education and well-being of local youth, and we were inspired by SJ Aspires' emphasis on higher education and career readiness. We know the attainment of a college education results in improved outcomes for students of color, and for the communities where we live and work."

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Stacy Martinet, Vice President of Marketing Strategy & Communications, Adobe

"Every young person deserves the support, tools, and resources to follow their dreams and reach their potential. We're deeply proud to be partnering with San Jose Aspires, to help close the opportunity and achievement gap here in our hometown. The abilities to think creatively and innovatively are evenly distributed, regardless of background -- and the scholarship, mentorship, and resources that San Jose Aspires provides can help make opportunity evenly distributed too."

Jill Bourne, City Librarian, City of San Jose

"San José Public Library is overwhelmed with joy that SJ Aspires is receiving more than $5-million in funding. SJ Aspires was developed as an integral component of the City's Education initiative, providing local students with financial support and motivation that will bridge their pathway to higher education. Thanks to this new financial commitment, the library can work to expand SJ Aspires every year and serve more high school students throughout San José."

Dawn Coppin, Executive Director, San José Public Library Foundation

"We are humbled and thrilled by the generosity of so many community partners who have stepped up to support underserved students through the SJ Aspires program.  We look forward to working with the Library to expand this program and help even more San José young people find their paths to post-secondary education and career readiness that will allow them to succeed in the Silicon Valley economy."

Vito Chiala Principal, Overfelt High School

"Overfelt High School students are incredible young people who deserve every opportunity to make their dreams come true. Despite the tremendous challenges they face, our East Side San Jose students continue to excel, with creativity and critical thinking. Our role as a school is to facilitate their growth through education so they can make a positive impact in their lives, families, and community. Providing motivation, guidance and significant investment in our students' futures, SJ Aspires is a critical partner in creating equitable opportunities for our students."

Amy Gerstein, Executive Director, John W. Gardner Center for Youth and Their Communities, Stanford School of Education

"We are delighted to partner with the San Jose Aspires team as they work to support students on their journeys to and through college. The San Jose Aspires team will utilize our rigorous, multi-methods research to improve and further develop the program, while simultaneously gleaning understanding of its impacts. We celebrate this tremendous opportunity to ignite critical change and new vistas for San Jose's youth."

Brandee McHale, Global Head of Community investing and Development and President, Citi Foundation

"Too many students, especially BIPOC students and those living on lower incomes, lack access to the tools and support that can help them attain the benefits of a college education.  Citibank is thrilled to provide banking services to SJ Aspires, including online access to savings activity for participating students and their families through our Citi Start Saving® platform, enabling them to save and plan for their college and career goals."

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About the City of San José

With more than one million residents, San José comprises the 10th largest city in the United States, and one of its most diverse cities.  San José's transformation into a global innovation center in the heart of Silicon Valley has resulted in the world's greatest concentration of technology talent and development.stats

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