At 40 Year Mark Saint Mary's High Potential Program Shows Nation's Highest Retention Rates For First Generation Freshmen

For the past three years, the High Potential Program, an innovative academic initiative aimed at first generation college students at Saint Mary’s College has seen remarkable results in retention rates for freshman students. While the national retention rate for first generation freshman students is 78 percent, the average freshman-to-sophomore retention rate over the past three years for High Potential Program students is 95 percent.

“The High Potential Program’s recent retention rates reflect the College’s commitment to providing access for low-income, first generation students and ensuring their success with high impact educational practices,” said Provost Bethami Dobkin.

High Potential, affectionately called HP, started 40 years ago with a cohort of two dozen students. It was designed to prepare low-income students, predominantly African American and Latino, and many the first in their families to attend college, to succeed at Saint Mary’s. They benefited from college preparation that included summer coursework, mentoring and peer advising. HP has enabled more than a thousand students to achieve their academic goals.

Former HP students, faculty and College leaders will gather for the commemorative presentation “Achieving Success: Honoring the High Potential Program” which includes a reception, dinner and acknowledgements of HP’s alumni and their academic and professional achievements. The 40th anniversary event will take place at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, April 22, 2014 in the Soda Activity Center of Saint Mary’s College, 1928 St. Mary’s Road, Moraga, CA 94556.

“High Potential was borne out of our commitment to serve under-resourced students of color who, at the time, were often overlooked by other higher education institutions," said Dobkin. "Since that time, the program has expanded to serve talented, first generation students from all communities. We are tremendously proud of HP’s achievements.”

With more than a third of current Saint Mary's students the first in their families to attend college, in 2010, the program shifted to focus on ensuring academic success for all first generation students. Currently, about 80 students — 62 percent of whom are Pell Grant eligible — participate in the HP program.

“The program serves as a higher education compass for many first generation students who don’t know what to expect when they arrive at a college,” said education professor and HP Co-director Gloria Sosa. “The program is extremely helpful, because it provides students with individualized support.”

Other program elements include an intensive two-week residential experience that prepares incoming students for the academic expectations of college, a first-year advising cohort, to connect students to each other, faculty and the campus community and critical time management and study skills workshops.

“Historically, HP provided a variety of important campus resources to facilitate success” said HP Co-Director Tracy Pascua Dea. “We’ve refined and refocused our academic support and these latest results show the program continues to be a real success story." For more information about the 40th anniversary of the High Potential Program, visit


Michael McAlpin
Director of Media Relations
(925) 631-4222 office
(925) 878-9535 cell

About SMC
The Saint Mary’s College of California experience inspires learning that lasts a lifetime. For 150 years, the College has provided students with a rigorous education that engages their intellect and spirit, and awakens a desire to transform society. Guided by the Christian Brothers, the Catholic Church’s oldest order dedicated exclusively to teaching, the College enrolls more than 4,100 students in undergraduate and graduate liberal arts and business programs. For more information visit Saint Mary’s College at and just 23 miles east of San Francisco.