Just before Hillary Clinton took the stage at a school fundraiser in Manhattan last Friday, senior Jamal Trotman stood up to share his own success story.
“I’ve been accepted into 10 different colleges,” Trotman, a star athlete at Eagle Academy for Young Men in Brooklyn, told the room of donors and dignitaries.
The crowd cheered.
But what the donors, and Clinton, did not hear was anything about Trotman’s difficulties over the past few months navigating college applications. Trotman’s educational future remains uncertain — and his story highlights just how difficult it can be for students to make the transition to college.
The event was a fundraiser for Eagle Academy, a network of all-boys public schools with campuses throughout New York City. At the event, the Democratic presidential hopeful said she hopes Eagle Academies spread across the country, and promised to be the model’s “strongest cheerleader.”
The Eagle Academy schools have graduation rate above 80 percent, while the graduation rate for men of color across New York state is 60 percent. (The schools, which serve grades 6 through 12, admit most students in the middle-school grades.)
“I don’t think the mission of Eagle Academy has ever been more important,” Clinton said. “We need to break down all the barriers that keep young people from reaching their full potential.”
Her support comes as high school and college graduation rates for black and Hispanic boys are the subject of new, focused attention. President Obama announced a My Brother’s Keeper Initiative to help young men of color, and New York state recently followed suit with its own $20 million initiative.
Yet one of Eagle Academy’s star students underscores just how difficult that task can be. Chalkbeat first met Trotman at a college fair last fall, and in the months since, Trotman experienced a series of roadblocks.
When we first met Trotman, who agreed to let Chalkbeat check in with him throughout his college search process, he was excited about his next steps and set on the ultimate goal of attending graduate school at Columbia University. But his excitement quickly turned into frustration. He had a huge list of schools he was interested in, and little sense of how best to pare it down. He was concerned about paying for college, and spent time flipping through an 800-page scholarship book.
The most serious problem was that his SAT scores were withheld after a jump in his scores was flagged as suspicious. He says the jump stemmed from a misunderstanding, and that he didn’t answer many of the questions the first time around.
As reporters took his photograph Friday and asked him which college he plans to attend, he shrugged and declined to say which one. That’s because behind the scenes, Trotman is still dealing with the ramifications of those delayed scores.
As he tried to wrestle his scores from the testing company, college application deadlines came and went. (College Board has declined to comment on the situation, citing Trotman’s privacy.) Meanwhile, he worked with advisers at Eagle Academy to apply to schools.
In the end, he might have to forgo his top-choice schools and attend a CUNY school next year, then transfer.
“This whole process, it just was like a major setback for me,” he said.
Trotman’s aspirations marked a departure from his hopes this fall, when he wanted to move out of New York City, play college football, and attend a top journalism program. During an earlier interview, Trotman said if he lived with his parents during college he would “lack the entire college experience.”
His complications represent a bigger problem. Only 9 percent of students from low-income communities typically graduate from college by age 24, according to a recent Pell Institute study.
That is exactly the problem Eagle Academy wants to help solve. Since 2004, when its first school opened its doors, the network has spread to all five boroughs and Newark.
Backstage at the event, Trotman met Clinton in person. Asked what message he wanted to send to her, he said Clinton should try to make the college search process simpler for students like him.
“Just make it more fair for us as kids,” he said.