Park Slope

After college admissions scandal, Park Slope mom looks to level playing field

November 19, 2019 Meaghan McGoldrick
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On the day Lori Loughlin, Felicity Huffman and a host of other high-profile parents were charged in a $25 million college entry scandal, one Park Slope mom had an idea.

As Lisa Cowan’s son, Jacob, waited to hear back from colleges he’d applied to, the third generation Brooklynite and mother of two thought about the implications of her family’s upper hand.

Jacob, who attended Beacon High School in Manhattan despite being zoned for Brooklyn’s District 13, seemingly had it all, Cowan said.

“I didn’t bribe Beacon High School to let Jacob in, but he certainly had help,” she told the Brooklyn Eagle. “He went to after-school classes, SHSAT classes, summer camp, he had all the books he wanted to read and the principal was my middle school teacher. We just had so many structural advantages over so many other kids.”

“These parents had just been accused of buying their way into schools for their kids,” Cowan said. “I remember thinking, yes, of course what they did was terrible and illegal and not good parenting, but I also remember thinking that I was really benefiting from an unfair system.”

So she wrote to the parents of Jacob’s classmates and teammates. “I said, ‘I know this is a crazy moment to ask for more since we’re all about to start paying for college tuition, but something has to change here and we have to be a part of that.’”

With the support of about 25 other families, Cowan created The College Opportunity Fund at Brooklyn Community Foundation. Participating parents then squared in on its first two recipients: College Access Research and Action and NYC Kids Rise.

“We wanted to give to nonprofits working on systemic change,” she explained, noting that College Access Research and Action works with New York City public schools to “change their college culture,” while NYC Kids Rise — a nonprofit working to expand economic opportunity for all families — helped “start a college conversation” for underprivileged students.

According to a 2017 study released by the Institute for Higher Education Policy and Prosperity Now, children with college savings between $1 and $499 are three times as likely to attend college and four times as likely to graduate as those without any college savings.

Through the NYC Kids Rise Save for College Program, students in participating public elementary schools automatically receive a scholarship account with an $100 initial deposit. Since its inception in 2017, the savings program has assisted more than 6,600 students across District 30 schools in Queens.

Last month, a grant from Cowan’s fund helped the group put an additional $60-plus in the savings accounts of 248 students at P.S. 92 in Corona.

“I felt like for us, with NYC Kids Rise especially, there was a space to have a parent-to-parent conversation,” she said. “It wasn’t just about getting my kid to college. It became about getting my neighbor, my borough, my city to college.”

Moving forward, Cowan hopes to see NYC Kids Rise expand its pilot savings fund program to Brooklyn. She also hopes participating families will continue to contribute, like she has pledged to.

“My family and a couple of other families have pledged to put $5,000 a year for every year we have a kid in college into this fund,” she said, noting that Jacob has a younger sister. “I’m committed for at least the next seven years, but the idea is that I’m just a tiny part of it. I’d love to get more people interested, involved and committed.”

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