The recent college admissions scandal exposed the role of wealth and privilege in gaining entry to America's best schools.
But its also helped bring attention to the issue of access to education for low income students and communities of color.
Latinos are the largest ethnic minority in the country, but academically, they are lagging behind their non-Latino and Hispanic peers.
In Sarasota and Manatee Counties, the nonprofit group UnidosNow, is working to close that achievement gap. Started in the fall of 2010, the organization was formed to represent the integration needs of the region’s fast-growing demographic.
The group’s Future Leaders Academy is a yearlong college prep and career readiness program. Students are assigned mentors and learn, among other things, how to prepare for the SAT and ACT exams, apply for financial aid and write an effective college essay.
On Wednesday, close to two dozen high school seniors announced their college plans during a ceremony for family, friends and supporters at Manatee Technical College in Bradenton. There was lots of applause and a few tears as students recounted their journeys from confusion to confidence during their time as 'scholars' in the Future Leaders Academy.
Braden River High School senior Mina Quesen, who is 18, announced that she will be attending Princeton University in the fall to study English.
“I was beyond excited when I got my acceptance letter,” she said. “I must have made 20 phone calls that day.”
Quesen, applied to eight different colleges but says Princeton was her dream school.
"I'm absolutely grateful that they basically told me, ‘we want you here and we don't want you to worry about the money,' she said.
Like all the Future Leader Academy graduates, Quesen's academic achievments earned her a generous financial aid package.
Her friend, Jonathan Bruzon, is a senior at Riverview High School in Sarasota. The 17-year old French horn player announced that he will be attending Oberlin College and Conservatory in Ohio on a full scholarship. He said his mom, who is from El Salvador, and his dad, who was raised in Cuba, are excited that he will be the first in the family to attend college.
"Their biggest takeaway for me is that I remember that I'm going to end up having a better fate then they had because unfortunately when they came to the U.S. they didn't have the best occupations,” he said.
All together, this year’s program class earned close to $2 million dollars in scholarships and grants to colleges and universities across the country.