New Nonprofit Seeks to Boost Black Student Enrollments at Elite Colleges

The Leadership Enterprise for a Diverse America (LEDA) is a young organization that is already having a major impact in increasing the number of black and low-income students who enroll at our nation’s most prestigious colleges and universities. LEDA was founded in 2003 by Gary Simons who spent 25 years as head of Prep for Prep, the New York City group that helps minority students gain access to the nation’s elite preparatory high schools. His new endeavor, LEDA, looks to identify public school students with enormous potential who might not consider applying to a prestigious college or university.

Using $1.5 million in seed money from a grant from the Andrew Mellon Foundation, LEDA operates two distinct programs, one for rural students from 14 states and another for students in New York City public high schools. Both groups participate in a seven-week summer session before their senior year in high school. New York City students also take Saturday classes.

LEDA’s track record has been impressive. The first class of LEDA national scholars attended the summer institute in 2005 and submitted college applications later that year. This group of students entered college in the fall of 2006. There were 51 students in this group. Of these, 17 enrolled in Ivy League colleges. Another six are students at MIT. Other schools where the 2006 class of LEDA scholars matriculated include Duke, Emory, Georgetown, Northwestern, Notre Dame, Rice, Pomona, Stanford, Tufts, and Spelman.

For the current group of LEDA scholars, 39 students applied for early admission this past fall and 17 were accepted. Among the schools where LEDA scholars were admitted in this admissions cycle are the University of Chicago, Reed College, Brown University, Stanford University (2), Princeton University (3), MIT, the University of Pennsylvania (3), Amherst College, Harvard University, and Swarthmore.