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Q&A: New Education Program Officer Reuben Kapp reflects on removing barriers to higher ed


Kresge’s Education Program in August welcomed a new program officer, Reuben Kapp, to the team. In his role, Reuben supports the Program’s goal to increase college access and success for underrepresented students. Before joining the foundation, Reuben was a research assistant, college success coach and senior admissions representative at the University of Michigan. He also previously worked as a campaign fundraising associate and held public policy fellowships at the U.S. Department of State and on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C.

Originally from Saginaw, Michigan, Reuben holds a bachelor’s degree in public policy and a master’s degree in higher education from the University of Michigan. He is finishing his Ph.D. in higher education at the University of Michigan and serves on the University of Michigan Latino Alumni board.

Communications Officer Tracey Pearson asked Reuben to share what his journey in higher education has looked like to date and his thoughts on the many changes taking place across the field.

Q: Did you always want to work in the field of higher education?

A: Higher education sort of called me. I started in public policy and international relations. I always thought I would work in politics in Washington D.C., but I quickly realized that was not the pathway for me. I was first introduced to the field when I worked in the admissions office at the University of Michigan during undergrad. Then I circled back to it, again at the Michigan admission office, this time as an admissions counselor once I returned from Washington D.C. I enjoyed the job because I liked speaking to the students and parents about accessing college.

Q: You also spent time as a college success coach. How would you say that experience impacts your perspective on removing barriers for college attainment?

A: That role is one I was especially passionate about. The students I worked with were first-gen, students of color, and low-income —  some of your most underrepresented students. It was an incredibly fulfilling role because I got to engage with students in a way that added value to their experience at the university and enriched their resumes.

I could see myself in those students. I was a first gen, Latinx student at a predominantly white institution. It was fulfilling to help these students, not just academically but in navigating a space you aren’t familiar with, helping them find resources. It was great to watch them grow while on campus but also to see them thrive in their lives once they graduated and left campus.

I worked with a young lady and was able to assist in her securing an internship in the U.S. Department of State, where I used to work. Having had my own experience in that field, I could offer counsel on things that I wish I would’ve known, areas where I fell short. Because of my experience, I could help her avoid some of the same mistakes I made simply because I didn’t know any better.

Q: What do you see as some of the greatest issues impacting college attainment today?

A: Unfortunately, there are many. There is the issue top of mind for everyone right now, which is race-based admissions or affirmative action. You also have the issue of affordability. I also think standardized testing has historically had issues. Once students are on campus, we must examine students’ sense of belonging. Those are just a few that I consider day-to-day, however, there are several. What I’m interested in seeing is what higher education will look like in the next five to 10 years. I would argue that we are in the thick of an immensely transformative period for higher education given the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic, Supreme Court decisions and society’s views on education.

Q: What policies do you think would be beneficial to see proposed or implemented in the coming years?

A: One that comes to mind is the role standardized tests play in the admissions process. When we think about “test-optional,” we just need to get rid of standardized tests. We know that scores are tied to socioeconomic status, wealth and access. They don’t really show whether a student will be successful or not. Many colleges and universities are already toying with test-optional admissions. We’ve seen evidence that indicates admissions can function without standardized tests. I don’t think we should get rid of the holistic admissions process, but I think a better option is to look at how students are doing in high school.

Q: You’ve spent a lot of time at the University of Michigan both as a student and a professional. What’s a lasting takeaway from your time there?

A: The University of Michigan changed my life, when it’s all said and done, I’m going to be a triple Wolverine. The university put me on a path I didn’t think I could ever visualize as an 18-year-old. Just thinking about my background and the community I come from and call home. I sit on the alumni board for the University of Michigan. My purpose there is to encourage other students to look at schools like the University of Michigan. I’m obviously biased toward U of M —  it’s a top school. But it’s about sharing how getting into college and a degree can change your life. U of M will always be a school I root for, but I loved the people that I worked with there, they were very passionate and it’s a great institution.

Q: What other Kresge programs are you most interested in learning about?

A: I’m really impressed with and inspired by the work the Detroit team is doing. On my first day at Kresge, I got to attend a meeting that offered an in-depth view of the work the team does, and it was so cool to see the team’s enthusiasm and also that of their grantees. I don’t know that there could have been a better introduction to the level of passion and heart that goes into committing to generational work like they are doing. It was a very visceral body of work to see and learn about.