- 1st graduating class sending 7 students to US colleges, including MIT, Oberlin and Georgetown
- Strong new placement into US boarding schools
- Value of scholarships received by students now exceeds total invested in Abaarso
- Students at US boarding schools excelling
- Launching middle school
- Financial model at 1/10th comparable academic schools in Middle East and Africa
College and Boarding School Scholarships
This was no doubt the most important and positive 3 months in our history. When we first came to Somaliland with the goal of placing Somali students on scholarship at top international schools, no one believed it would happen. When we saw the level of the students on arrival – 1st grade reading, 4th grade math – it was hard to suppress our skepticism as well. To the best of our knowledge no student from Somaliland or Somalia has received a scholarship to a US college in several decades. Now our first graduating class has seven students on their way to America, including one to M.I.T., one to Oberlin and one to Georgetown. This is in addition to the six students from that class already in prestigious American and South African boarding schools, including four of the top five students originally in our graduating class (these students are repeating 11th grade in the US). We are pursuing other strong international universities for the remaining students and will also be offering a post-graduate year for those who need more time with us. When all is said and done, we’d expect well over half of our first class to attend well-regarded institutions around the world.
The story of Mubarik Mohamoud who will be attending M.I.T. is particularly inspiring. Prior to coming to Abaarso, Mubarik was living homeless in Hargeisa having left the Ethiopian refugee camp where his family remained. After scoring well on Abaarso’s entry exam and gaining admission, Mubarik came to say that he couldn’t possibly attend due to financial reasons but he was hopeful that we’d take his friend in his place. We made a place for Mubarik, and he quickly rose to the top of his Abaarso class. He was subsequently chosen as the first of our students to attend an American boarding school, where he excelled in academics and proved to be a talented distance runner. After MIT, Mubarik plans to bring his talents back home to help his people.
The last quarter has also seen a continuation of our success in placing underclassman into highly competitive US and South African boarding schools. One student received a Davis Scholarship, paying three years full tuition at Westminster School with a $20,000/year four-year college scholarship to follow. While the numbers are not finalized, we have well exceeded last year’s placement total while adding new schools such as Westminster, Culver, Choate and Berkshire.
Just this year, our students received scholarships totaling approximately $2 million. This number exceeds the total amount expended on Abaarso’s operations including the construction of the school!
Students in US Continue Strong Performance
Our students in US boarding schools have continued their strong performance. A particular highlight this quarter was Deka Abdirahman Aden, who became the first international student in Worcester Academy’s memory to win 1st place in that school’s public speaking competition. Deka then followed that up by winning Best Delegate out of 400 who attended a Boston College Model UN. Deka achieved these feats while she’s also taking 3 AP courses as an 11th grader, and performing solos in the school’s concerts. We are pleased, but not surprised, that Worcester Academy has asked her to stay for another year.
Launching Middle School
We are now signing up a Grade 7 class as the start of our new middle school, which will be located on our high school campus. Notwithstanding our students’ many successes, we feel hard pressed to remediate their vast deficiencies and teach them an age-appropriate curriculum during the four (or fewer) years they are with us. By enrolling students in 7th grade we believe more will be competitive with top students internationally upon departing Abaarso.
Move to Traditional Financial Aid Model
The finances of our students’ families are exceptionally opaque. Conventional means of documenting need, such as income tax returns, simply do not exist. Moreover, many students may have access to informal support networks through relatives and fellow clan members. Even students living in a shack without a dollar to their name may have a relative overseas willing to pay their full tuition. These relationships are beyond our ken.
To date, we have operated on what is effectively a “need blind” financial model with limited ability to assess need. Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of our students have described themselves as needy and have received subsidized or free tuition and board. This arrangement is neither morally sound nor financially sustainable, and we have determined to implement a more traditional financial aid model for our incoming classes.
Specifically, we are going to bifurcate the applicant pool into those students who are able to pay the $1,800 per year it costs us to educate them and those who claim otherwise. Applicants will be admitted on merit until such time as available scholarship funds are depleted. Thereafter, we will accept only students able to pay. There won’t be a second bite at the apple so a family will be well served not to understate their financial capacity.
We are not blind to the implications of this policy. In the absence of money to pay their tuition, capable and hard-working children will continue to struggle with limited educational opportunity. Their country will likewise suffer as their potential is unfulfilled.
We believe that Abaarso’s $1,800 cost per student is about 10% as expensive as that of comparable schools in Africa and the Middle East, not all of which have the added cost of boarding. Admittedly lacking objectivity on the subject, we know of no opportunity to do so much good at so little cost, and we would be grateful for your support. Such support could take the form of simply contributing to the school, or of formally sponsoring one or more students. The latter arrangement has proven very rewarding for a number of US families, including one that paid for a couple years of Mohamed Abdirahman Hussein’s education at Abaarso and then got to see him in person attending the Northfield Mount Hermon School. Today, Mohamed’s academic and athletic successes point to a highly successful college admissions process a year from now.
On a final note, several of our supporters have ventured to visit us in Abaarso. Not one has regretted the trip. If you’d have any interest in seeing the school, either for a short stay or a longer period, which could include teaching, you’d be most welcome.