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“You can move the needle a little with these one-off programs,” said Elisabeth Barnett, a senior research scholar at Teachers College, Columbia University. “But to actually graduate a lot of first-generation students, you need to move the needle a lot.”

Organizations like the 30-year-old Posse Foundation have worked to address this for years. Like SEO Scholars, the Posse Foundation has a 90 percent graduation rate. But to get there, it too, takes the long view, helping hundreds of high school seniors a year secure scholarships, offering them months of college-readiness workshops and facilitating faculty advisory programs once they are on campus, as well as peer mentoring groups and tutoring, until the end of their sophomore year, a time when national dropout rates for low-income students begin to fall.

The 16-year-old New York-based Opportunity Network, which boasts a 93 percent six-year graduation rate for its now 1,000 fellows, is also comprehensive and long-term. It engages students early in high school with a strong academic enrichment program, rigorous SAT prep and college essay writing workshops, transition-to-college boot camps, and campus advisory support.

And Yonkers Partners in Education, a Westchester County-based college prep program founded in 2007, enrolls 600 of its 1,200 students in a six-year program that starts in the ninth grade and follows students until the end of their sophomore year of college. The program also offers a strong academic component, and its first class of college-bound students, who are now in their third year of college, has a 93 percent retention rate.

Samuel Wallis, the program’s executive director said that if you want to really help students get through college, “The earlier you start, the better.”

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Educators at SEO Scholars also place a high premium on rectifying the kind of socioemotional pitfalls that trip up so many first-generation college students.

A team of counselors works around the clock, taking calls from frazzled students — one has gotten a disappointing grade on a midterm, another is having trouble with a roommate. Some SEO students just need to talk with someone who knows how hard they studied for a really challenging calculus exam, or they need an adult who can advocate for them because someone in the bursar’s office cannot find their financial aid paperwork.

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