In 1990, The University of St. Francis and Joliet Central High School designed the Access to College Initiative (ACI) program, with Charles Beutel, Dean of Registration at The University of St. Francis and Clarice Boswell, former Joliet Central High School Director of Pupil Personnel, as its founders. Dr. Boswell's intention was to serve potential first-generation university bound students of ethnic minority background. Her objectives were to increase the high school graduation rate, present college as an option, involve parents in the education process, increase students' awareness of career opportunities, encourage a college prep curriculum, assist in their applying for financial aid and scholarships, and build self- esteem and motivation. Dr. Boswell worked to help the kids in her community, enabling them to do the most with their lives. She retired July 1, 1998, at which point her position as Coordinator was turned over to someone else.
Each spring, Dr. Boswell, with the help of junior high school representatives, identified 25 to 30 rising freshmen who would benefit from being involved in the program until their high school graduation. The students had to exhibit motivation and college potential, meet test score requirements, have acceptable behavior and attendance, exhibit good citizenship and sportsmanship and have parental consent in order to participate in the ACI program. All these requirements still stand.
Dr. Boswell devoted a minimum of 20 hours a week to ACI. She was a student mentor, oversaw all the programs, did scheduling, administered the budget, and worked to raise money for the program. The program has several means of helping the students prepare for college. The students take field trips to universities. They are helped with starting a college savings account and planning early for financial aid. Seminars and parent and student workshops are provided each semester on topics such as scholarships, resumes, and portfolios. In addition, summer employment is provided for the students. Various other services are also provided, depending on the students' high school standing. Joliet Township High Schools (ACI has expanded to Joliet West High School) provides ACI with facilities, and identifies additional student tutors. The University of St. Francis provides program development staff for the students.
The ACI program receives support from the Caterpillar Foundation, First of American Bank, and Sam's Club Foundation, as well as from private organizations and businesses. Costs include seminar materials, transportation, scholarship money, and fees for students who cannot pay test prep workshop or testing fees. The minority high school graduation rate has increased from 75% as a result of ACI and 95% of ACI's previous class entered a two or four-year college.