Alexandra Bernadotte was the first in her family to attend college. The Haitian-born first-generation American remembers the day her acceptance letter to Dartmouth College arrived, and the celebration that followed. “We treated the moment almost as though we won the lottery. We thought OK, we’ve made it, this was what the dream was about,” she says. Bernadotte’s parents had moved to the United States when she was very young, leaving her to grow up with her grandmother in Port-au-Prince. She eventually joined her parents and sister in inner-city Boston, and from that point on had been instructed that getting into college was the path to a better life in this country. But, she says, even though she was accepted to the college of her choice, the real challenge was yet to come. “We assumed the most difficult part of the journey was over… But I completely bombed my first year at Dartmouth. I failed academically, socially and emotionally.”
Bernadotte learned a lot from her first year at college. She sought help, bounced back and graduated. But most low-income students in college aren’t so lucky. According to a recent New York Times article, roughly 25 percent of college freshman from poorer backgrounds will end up getting their diploma. Bernadotte founded the national nonprofit Beyond 12 to try and increase that number by providing high schools and colleges with more information so they can better prepare low-income and immigrant students like herself for a successful postsecondary education.