2013 Philanthropy Awards: The Posse Foundation


Most recently updated: December 2020

The Posse Foundation is an American nonprofit organization that provides scholarships to college ready applicants, hoping to empower diverse groups of leaders who will “transform communities, this country and the world.”


In 1989, Founder and President Deborah Bial was working with talented young people from impoverished urban areas in New York City. She watched these ambitious students leave for college, only to see them return before the semester was through, having dropped out of school. When asked what had gone wrong, one student replied, “If I only had my posse with me, I never would have dropped out.”

And so began The Posse Foundation, an endeavor to send groups of bright students to colleges and universities together as a posse: a support system to ensure each student persists to graduation. Its first partner institution, Vanderbilt University, is now in good company, with 51 colleges and universities across the United States forming the Posse consortium. Its scholars, more than 5,500 in total, have met with great success, winning coveted fellowships (including 35 Fulbright scholars since 2007) and job placements after graduation.

“I don’t think I’ve ever met a Posse scholar and not been in awe of what they’ve done—on campus, in a professional setting, how they’re giving back,” says Karen Matts, Posse Chicago Senior Development Officer.

How Posse Works

Posse Chicago works with all of Chicago Public Schools to recruit nominations of talented, hardworking students. The interview process, called the Dynamic Assessment Process, is a nontraditional way to find students who can be successful in college. The interviews hone in on leadership abilities and non-cognitive characteristics in addition to GPA and academic standing. Around 100 promising students are selected annually from a pool of more than 2,500 and awarded a four-year, full-tuition leadership scholarship to a partner institution.

While in high school, Posse students attend regular workshops within their peer groups, emphasizing team building, leadership and academic excellence. Throughout their college tenure, students meet regularly with mentors to support their continued success, and such support continues past graduation, as students transition from campus to the workforce. Posse also offers 10 graduate school partnerships, including Northwestern’s School of Law and the Kellogg School of Management, which provide scholarships and other forms of financial assistance to Posse alumni admitted on their own merit. 

What does a Posse Scholar look like?

The typical Posse scholar is a true standout. “Our scholars are smart,” says Matts, who notes that the application process emphasizes nontraditional leadership roles. “Of course we tap the class president and the winner of the science fair, but then we also have students who saw injustice in their neighborhood and stepped up to organize a rally. Or maybe they live at home with their grandmother and three siblings, so they work a full-time job, go to school and take care of their siblings.”

“Our results really speak for themselves,” she continues. “We have a 90 percent graduation rate. When you look at Chicago Public Schools, only 8 percent of students receive a bachelor’s degree.”

Posse Chicago is Posse’s third program site, which recruits from 100 percent of Chicago Public High Schools and over 100 community-based organizations. Posse Chicago partners with the following 10 top-tier colleges and universities: Agnes Scott College, Connecticut College, Cornell University, DePauw University, Middlebury College, Oberlin College, Pomona College, Trinity College, University of Michigan, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Posse scholars (2013).

By The Numbers (Updated 2020):

Over the past 31 years, Posse has identified and trained more than 9,900 Scholars from 10 of the nation’s largest metropolitan areas ─ Atlanta, Bay Area, Boston, Chicago, D.C., Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans and New York (we will choose our 10,000th Scholar in December 2020!).

  • $1.5 billion awarded in scholarships by top-tier colleges and universities
  • Posse Program has 90 percent graduation rate
  • 3,700 active scholars in the program
  • More than 5,400 alumni nationwide
  • More than 1,700 high-achieving students recruited, trained and supported by Posse Chicago
  • More than $261 million in scholarships awarded by Posse Chicago


2013-philanthropy-awardsThis article is part of our 2013 Philanthropy Awards. Find more of our winners here: