Greenhouse Scholars: Cultivating the Next Generation of Leaders

May 9, 2013

By nwilkas on May 9, 2013

For many, the opportunity to get a college degree is something that was probably taken for granted. They skipped right past “Will I go to college?” to “Where will I go to college?” Attending and graduating from college were both foregone conclusions from an early age. It can be easy to forget about those whose college prospects are much less certain, though it’s not a small number; 40% of 2011 high school graduates did not enroll in a four-year college or university1. Looking beyond enrollment, the likelihood that a student will reach the point of graduation is influenced by a number of factors, largely related to income and ethnicity. Nationally, only 11% of the low-income, first-generation students who make it to college will actually earn a bachelor’s degree2.

It was this shocking reality that prompted the 2005 launch of Greenhouse Scholars, a Colorado-based nonprofit organization devoted to helping high performing, underresourced students get to—and get through—college. Greenhouse Scholars developed a proprietary Whole Person© Approach, which goes far beyond financial subsidies to include layers of personal and professional support (Exhibit 14).

Greenhouse Scholars: Cultivating the Next Generation of Leaders

Eligibility for the program is based on a combination of scholastic, extracurricular, and personal achievements, as well as financial need and other basic requirements. However, that description fails to do justice to the extraordinary students who are ultimately accepted to the program. There are a total of 92 students who are current Scholars or alumni of the program: their average unweighted high school GPA is 3.86; 24% were valedictorians of their high school class; 21% were student body or class presidents; and 35% were captains of their school’s varsity sports teams3. This doesn’t even account for the impressive initiative they have shown outside of school—where these kids have founded organizations, raised awareness, and lobbied for change on a variety of issues in their communities. Yet what’s most remarkable is that they’ve accomplished all of this in the face of tremendous adversity. This group includes children who have been homeless, abused, abandoned, neglected by drug-addicted parents, subjected to poverty, forced to flee war-torn countries, and charged with working full-time and caring for younger siblings while still in high school—just to name a few of the hardships they’ve endured. Their resilience is incredible.

While their individual stories are certainly inspiring, it’s the results of the program that are flat-out amazing. The vast majority of Scholars are the first in their family to attend college (Exhibit 15).


Greenhouse Scholars’ college graduation rate outperforms national graduation rates at all income levels and is 11 times higher than that of other students with comparable household incomes (Exhibit 16). After completing college and entering the workforce, Greenhouse Scholars are overwhelmingly following their career path versus having to take any available job (Exhibit 17).


When Greenhouse Scholars expanded to Illinois in 2012, RMB signed on as an annual corporate partner of the program, and Fred Paulman joined the Development Board. We’ve followed the success of the program since its inception, and we’re proud to support the education and career goals of young adults within our community. In fact, after learning more about this impressive program, many RMB employees have also chosen to get personally involved in furthering its cause. Seven people contributed their time in the selection process for the inaugural class of Scholars in Illinois, either by reviewing applications or participating on interview panels. Five hundred women, including five from RMB, rode in Greenhouse Scholars’ signature event, Venus de Miles, an annual all-women’s fundraising bike ride, which took place in Lake Forest last August. Four people have banded together with their spouses and pledged a collective annual gift of $7,000 for four consecutive years, which covers all program costs of one Greenhouse Scholar. Two women partnered with a local bar to host a party and donated 27% of the proceeds to Greenhouse Scholars And finally, one of our advisors is a mentor to one of the Scholars in the Illinois Class of 2016—a four-year commitment to consistent meetings and communications with her assigned Scholar.

If any part of this brief introduction has sparked your interest in this influential organization, we hope you will reach out to learn more about Greenhouse Scholars and the variety of ways to get involved. The range of opportunities is broad and includes one-time engagements, long-term commitments, and everything in between. With all of our support, Greenhouse Scholars can continue to make a tremendous impact on those who have demonstrated the capacity to be our next generation of leaders.



1Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2011
2Pell Institute Study, 2011
3Greenhouse Scholars

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