Meet Jim McCorkell!

Meet Jim McCorkell!

// By Jacqueline Brennan

Jim McCorkell is founder and CEO of College Possible, a nonprofit organization that helps promising low-income students prepare for college and graduate from college – and he’ll be joining us in November at Upswell!

Jim grew up as part of a low-income family, and his parents were unable to finish high school or attend college. They did, however, successfully raise five children – all of whom attended college!

Jim’s experience inspired him to create College Possible almost 20 years to help other students with similar experiences get a fair shot at graduating from college. According to Jim, “Every young person deserves a fair shot to go as far as their talent and energy can take them.”

With a staff of almost 500 and an annual budget of $22 million, College Possible now serves nearly 25,000 students in six major American cities. Jim took a moment to tell us more about himself and his passion for his work.

Q: What’s your favorite way to relax?

JM: My favorite way to relax is to go into the woods with our golden retriever for a long walk. I sometimes do this alone, and sometimes with my wife and/or son, or another friend.  But it always seems to help me slow down, relax, and reflect on the beauty of the world.

Q: What drew you to a career in the social sector?

JM: I was drawn to the social sector by several people who deeply inspired me. One of those people was Paul Wellstone, the former U.S. Senator from Minnesota, who was also my professor at Carleton College. More than anyone I have ever known, he believed that positive change is possible. He challenged me to identify the most important issue to me and to try my best to do something about it.  Students from upper-income families are now five times more likely to earn a college degree than their lower-income counterparts. That is an outrageous disparity, especially at a time when almost all employment and income growth now goes to people with some form of post-secondary education. It has become my life’s work to try to close this degree divide.

Q: Upswell is about breaking the mold. What’s one thing you’d like to see in the conversation that doesn’t get enough national attention?

JM: We have a new transformational growth strategy called “Catalyze.” The idea is to help colleges and universities across America adopt our near-peer coaching model to help retain and graduate more of their students from low-income backgrounds. We believe this model has the potential to change the way higher education works with such students and to ultimately help close the degree divide. I’d love to find partners, funders, and colleagues who are interested in joining our cause!


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