Next month, nearly 40 college students will head off to school; some are returning, others embarking on their first year. For Sunshine’s College Life Program, headed by Arnold “Sojo” Sojourner, he sees this time in their life as a ‘Right of Passage.’ “This is the part of their journey where they will face new opportunities and challenges,” Sojo shares. And he is here to help support them in the obstacles and challenges they face.
Roughly 60% of the college students are the first in their families to attend. They are often well-supported by their high-schools in order to enroll in college. However, staying in college is often more difficult. In fact, a study in 2011 showed that more than 90% of non-white first-generation students did not graduate within 6 years. Sojo shared, “This past year, I had one student who legally emancipated from her parents, another who was far away from home for the first time, and several others who struggled to even pay for books.” The challenges of navigating financial aid, balancing working 20 hours a week with a full class load, and advocating for academic support are all ways Sojo coaches the students to ensure they can remain in school.
Sojo says Sunshine acts as the students’ biggest cheerleader, celebrating their success, but also mentoring them through disappointments. Studies have shown that students who receive coaching through college are 15% more likely to finish. “[When they come to me], I don’t want to hear them tell me why they can’t. I want them to identify the [obstacle] in front of them that has to be removed so they can.” Sojo networks the students with each other, checks in with them frequently, holds events for them when they are home, and is always available to help talk them through whatever “giant” they are facing.
College sophomore Emeri Garrett shared, “Sojo will literally email me every week to check up on me. He makes sure we are always one step ahead of the process, whether it’s financial aid, getting registered for next semester, or buying books.” College freshman Noah also asserted, “Sojo is there for us all the time. It’s the best support to have as you’re going off to school, knowing someone is there checking up on you and you can come to him with anything.”
Many of the students that are now in college have come through Sunshine’s youth programs since they were very young. The College Life program was implemented two years ago as an essential component, helping undergird the path to young adulthood. Sunshine rejoices in the successes of many of our students and continues to be in prayer for them as they enter this new chapter.