MacArthur Fellows Program

MacArthur Fellows / Meet the Class of 2007

Deborah Bial

Education Strategist

Posse Foundation

New York, New York

Age: 42 at time of award

Published January 28, 2007

Deborah Bial is an education strategist who addresses the challenges of college access for underrepresented populations by identifying and fostering latent talent and opening opportunities for them to pursue higher education. Traditional admissions metrics such as grade point average, class rank, and entrance exam scores have long been recognized as inadequate predictors of success for some undergraduates. Through her Posse Foundation, Bial offers an alternative model for identifying promising young people from less advantaged, urban environments. Working with public high schools and other community organizations, Bial evaluates potential candidates using a rigorous assessment process based on qualities such as leadership, teamwork, communication skills, and motivation — qualities that are as critical to successful navigation of undergraduate education as academic track records. The most promising students are invited to join a “posse,” a small group that participates in an eight-month, pre-collegiate training program that builds individual and team skills and serves as an essential social support system once students arrive at college. In parallel, she develops partnerships with admissions officials from dozens of highly selective liberal arts colleges and universities, offering a powerful means to augment the cultural and economic diversity of their institutions. Bial is now refining her model to provide a focused program for students specifically interested in science and medicine. Today, 90 percent of “posse” students graduate, a rate significantly higher than the national average. By demonstrating the importance of less-recognized skills in educational achievement, Bial continues to open doors for thousands of students and to reframe college admissions into a more successful and inclusive process.

Deborah Bial received a B.A. (1987) from Brandeis University and an M.A. (1996) and Ed.D. (2004) from Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education. She has served as the founder and president of the Posse Foundation since 1989. Bial is also a founding partner of the consulting company Firefly Education LLC.


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