Posse Foundation: Developing Strong Leaders from Diverse Backgrounds
Founded in 1989, Posse Foundation was a nonprofit organization with a mission of developing future leaders who reflected the U.S.'s rich diversity. The organization ran a selective, localized admissions process in 10 U.S. cities to identify outstanding students with leadership potential, known as Posse Scholars. Then, it placed them in "posses" - groups of 10 Scholars from the same city - at selective U.S. higher education institutions, which agreed to provide full tuition to all selected Scholars. Although Posse did not screen applicants for race or financial need, it focused selection efforts in areas with racial and socioeconomic diversity. Posse received national recognition and expanded considerably in the decades after its founding, but by 2020 its growth had started to plateau. In 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Posse signed up several new partners, driven in part by a new, virtual selection option that could find Scholars from locations beyond the cities where Posse maintained brick-and-mortar offices. The virtual option might help Posse scale, but it was not yet clear whether bringing together Scholars from different places versus from the same city would have any implications for the program's effectiveness. Looking ahead, Posse Founder and CEO Deborah Bial considered how to continue Posse's momentum and sign up more institutional partners. Posse focused exclusively on roughly 150 of the most selective colleges and universities, and some prospective partners were unwilling or unable to work with Posse unless it only selected students with financial need. Expanding the list of potential partners or adding a financial need screen might yield more partnerships, but Bial and the rest of the Posse team believed that working with selective institutions and being solely merit-based were key parts of Posse's identity and its ability to achieve its mission. How could Posse best position itself for continued scaling? Looking beyond Posse, should higher education institutions link their efforts to improve diversity with financial need, or should they re-evaluate their conceptions of merit?