Price students raise $80,000 for education non-profit

Chemist Tiffany Phillips working in the lab at Colgate. She is a former EST student who graduated with a degree in Chemistry and Psychology in 2021 from Xavier University of New Orleans. (Photo courtesy of Wendell Phillips)

In one academic year, five graduate students at the Price School of Public Policy increased funding for Educating Students Together — a college access program that serves underprivileged students — nearly fourfold, improving the organization’s transparency score and securing a $32,000 grant from Microsoft. 

Since 1987, the EST College Access program has guided students from foster youth systems and low-income households through the college search and application process to increase the graduation rate of students from these populations.

Yasmin Delahoussaye, the organization’s co-founder and treasurer, initially began the nonprofit with her husband, assisting these students in achieving academic success at prestigious universities. Now, after working with the Price students, the non-profit reported an additional $80,000 added to their funds through substantial grants.

As of 2021, more than two-thirds of college dropouts are low-income students, who Delahoussaye said are “vulnerable populations within our community.” Universities have the resources to support a diverse set of high achieving students, and one of Delahoussaye’s goals is to encourage them to access these resources. 

“It’s not that they don’t want to finish college, but they run out of money,” Delahoussaye said. “Because college is so doggone expensive … and [the mission] goes back to access and affordability for us.”

EST shows students how to stand out from the crowd and get into their dream college by giving SAT prep, teaching them financial literacy and providing ways to build generational wealth. 

“One of our top students in particular got a full ride into an accelerated medical degree program, where her undergraduate degree in biology will be paid for,” Delahoussaye said. “This young lady wants to be a neurosurgeon — which makes a million dollars a year — so think about how her life is going to change. She’s living in a single-parent household and her mom is making $25 an hour. ”

Shalei Heflin, a USC graduate with a masters in nonprofit leadership and management and criminal justice, worked with the team of Price students to increase funding for the organization, and said working with an organization that impacts real people motivated her to want to help low-income youth by refining her own capstone project. Heflin said the stakes were higher to succeed than in any other class she took for her master’s degree because she was accountable to multiple parties.

The EST College Access program guides students from foster youth systems and low-income households through the college process. (Beth Mosch | Daily Trojan file photo)

“[Working for EST] is not just like a case study, where we’re less hands-on … it was stressful for me in the sense that you want to be able to give them something that will actually create and catalyze change, rather than feel like you’re also taking their time,” Heflin said. 

Heflin said she felt connected to the organization because she, as a child, had incarcerated parents, and felt that her personal experience made her more socially aware of the disparities in education, as well as the stigma of those children falling into generational incarceration. She said she wants to work toward making higher education a right, rather than a privilege. 

“The [privilege] that I have been given allowed me to have the life that I have led, and I’m very grateful for that,” Heflin said. “Everybody deserves a chance to thrive, and I feel like higher education … is a way to help kids get out of systems that are harmful.”

Before joining EST as a mentee, Hung Jesse Ngo, a freshman majoring in chemical engineering, wanted to apply to schools based primarily on financial aid. Delahoussaye and the organization encouraged and helped him apply to USC — his dream school. 

“For my high school, where people who did get into USC couldn’t go because of tuition, I was lucky enough to have the program help me appeal my financial aid and get more money to the point where it was much more affordable than all my other schools,” Ngo said.

Ngo, now a tutor at EST in his free time, wanted to give back to the organization and make the same difference in another student’s life as EST did for him.

“When I was one of the kids for the EST and I was doing the SAT program, the math tutor was really helpful and just drilled into concrete details, like quicker ways of finding the answers so you can save time to do other questions, and I kind of want to teach the other students how to do that too,” Ngo said. 

EST hosts an average of 50 students per year, Delahoussaye said, and having diversity in funding sources has been integral to the success of the organization. Although they received over 200 applications, it costs $2500 to host one student for the program, so acceptance is limited.

“In a perfect world, anyone who wanted to be in our program could be in our program,” Delahoussaye said. “Right now we’re serving a fourth of the number of kids we could be serving, … so there’s lots of students out there that I believe would take advantage of the opportunity if given an opportunity.”