gayle king
King (left) and her daughter Kirby Bumpus during a White House Correspondents Dinner in 2013. Source: Shutterstock/Rena Schild

American TV personality and The Oprah Magazine‘s editor-at-large Gayle King is championing college as an upward social mobility tool to break the cycle of poverty.

In the latest Variety magazine cover story on her, King spoke about the Sponsors for Educational Opportunity (SEO) Scholars programme and how it puts under-served communities through college by providing educational opportunities for those in their early years.

“They’re teaching these kids at a very early age to get ready. If you get kids early, you get kids who are really committed,” King said.

Under the programme, around 1,500 students in the ninth grade are enrolled into an intensive academic “boot camp” where they attend classes in English and Mathematics on Saturdays, summer as well as through weekly after-school classes.

According to SEO’s website, students have to show their family’s median income is below the poverty line and at least a 70 percent grade point average (GPA) in New York City or at least a 2.0 GPA in San Francisco.

GPA, used as a grading system in the US, shows cumulative average of grades in all of a student’s classes.

In the 11th and 12th grade, students are paired with volunteer mentors and participate in leadership camps, in addition to the usual classes that conclude with an SAT strategy course in the spring of their 11th grade.

The college admissions team then guides the students through the college application process, which includes campus tours, meeting with admissions officers and intensive essay-writing assistance.

Referring to her childhood and how it was never a question whether or not she would attend college, King says not all kids are as fortunate.

Not many, she says, are privy to family support or the type of backing the SEO programme offers.

“A lot of people know you have to do well on your SATs or ACTs or your parents are getting you a tutor,” King, a University of Maryland alum says.

“What if you grow up in a home where nobody does any of that?”

King is one of six “Impact Honorees” selected for Variety’s Power of Women: NY series. Other notable female personalities featured in the magazine include Jessica Chastain, Chelsea Clinton, Blake Lively, Audra McDonald, and Shari Redstone.

College has long been touted as one of the tools of upward social mobility in the US. A recent research by Economist found those from lower-income households have a two-third chance to reach the upper-middle class if they graduate from an elite institution.

These admissions, however, are uncommon and family background still holds a lot of students back. Those who grew up in the lowest fifth income bracket only had a one-in-10 chance of reaching the top 20 percent.

But SEO president and CEO William Goodloe believes his organisation can overcome this.

SEO is said to eliminate the gap in SAT scores between poorer and more well-to-do students and that all of their students have gained entrance into a four-year college.

“Eighty-five percent will be the first in their family to earn a college degree,” Goodloe says.

“We see that as a way of breaking the cycle of poverty.”

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