A college degree is still the surest path out of poverty for underserved students. In 2020, recognizing the extraordinary challenges students faced in choosing whether and where to enroll in college, we supported traditional and new pathways to college access and success.
America Needs You (ANY) addresses the opportunity gap in access to higher education and the lack of support for degree persistence and career success experienced by students who are the first in their families to go to college. The program model offers intensive career development and leadership training, which enables high-potential, low-income, first-generation college students to persist in college, earn their degrees, and secure meaningful jobs. Our 2020 grant supported the traditional ANY Fellows model in New York as well as ANY’s innovative campus-based program in partnership with two schools in the CUNY system. We had supported the initial launch of an on-campus partnership model with students at LaGuardia Community College in 2017 and a second campus program with students at Borough of Manhattan Community College in 2018. The partnership model which we funded in 2020 increased the efficiency of the program both in terms of cost and operations by utilizing a cost-sharing model in which the campuses covered 20% of the cost through in-kind support. This model provided an opportunity for us to support ANY in increasing its impact, serving more students and deepening partnerships with academic institutions with a cost-effective model.
Bottom Line’s New York Success program serves over 2,500 first-generation New York City college students from low-income backgrounds attending a select group of four-year CUNY, SUNY, and private colleges. Our 2020 grant supported cohorts of students attending Lehman College who were originally part of our original “pay for success” effort. Lehman reneged on its pledge to support these students, but we refused to abandon them and stepped in. Bottom Line’s program involves intensive in-person guidance and mentoring. Paid advisors are trained to support first-generation students from low-income backgrounds through the entire range of obstacles they may encounter on the path to graduation—academic, financial, and personal—and to prepare them to succeed in the job market.
Our staff conceived of a way to encourage high school students to obtain college credits by broadening the use of a College Level Examination Program (CLEP) online via ModernStates.org. A strategic partnership we developed with The Carnegie Corporation enabled Modern States to expand its reach and target New York City high school graduates during the summer of 2020 with an opportunity to earn college credits regardless of whether or not they chose to defer their enrollment. This initiative, NYC x Freshman Year for Free, achieved pass rates and credits earned of over 95% at selected high schools and included a dedicated portal on the Modern States website in which select courses were complemented and enhanced by free online tutoring and mentoring from trained, certified teachers.
We underwrote the expansion of OneGoal to New York City and continued our support in 2020. As the nation’s only teacher-led college persistence organization, OneGoal is a unique model that identifies, trains, and supports high-performing champion teachers, called Program Directors, to implement a three-year college readiness and success curriculum into classroom-based learning. OneGoal selects high schools willing to partner by identifying one to three teachers who are trained in a comprehensive OneGoal curriculum that includes daily lesson plans and extensive materials to train the teachers to be effective college counselors. Program Directors work intensively with a cohort of 25-30 underperforming students, not high-achievers, called Fellows, from the 11th grade through their first year of college to achieve two core goals: increase their college selectivity tier by at least one level and, following the two years of in-person counseling/mentorship, continue that relationship remotely when students are college freshmen.
Our 2020 grant helped create an innovation in the college access space by enabling the development of a customized college match tool for New York City students. Overgrad is a college and career readiness platform working to make the college application process more transparent, equitable, and accessible for all students, with a focus on low-income and first-generation students. Through a personalized, data-driven approach, Overgrad helps students identify their best-matched colleges and build a tailored list of schools where they are most likely to be accepted, persist, and graduate. With our support, Overgrad is developing a set of customized features to enhance the platform, offering counselors and students a localized approach to the college access process in New York City. The tool is particularly needed because estimates are that 80-85% of students graduating from NYC public high schools attend CUNY or SUNY schools.
Currently, the dominant player in the college match tools space is a for-profit company, Naviance (owned by Hobsons), which is an expensive and stagnant tool but continues to monopolize the market due to a lack of alternatives. Overgrad, a not-for-profit, has the potential to compete with Naviance at a lower cost to its partners.
We supported a collaboration between two of the best programs focused on college access and success for high-achieving youth: Sponsors for Educational Opportunity (SEO) and Opportunity Network (OppNet). SEO Scholars is a rigorous year-round, out-of-school-time education and youth development program; 90% of SEO Scholars earn a college degree. OppNet teaches career readiness skills to high-achieving youth, targeting students of a similar profile to SEO. With our support, OppNet expanded its train-the-trainer approach to improve student career competencies and outcomes for SEO Scholars.
While many programs begin in high school, TEAK is one of the few outcomes-driven college access and persistence support programs that recruits students in the middle school years. TEAK’s high-achieving, low-income students participate in a six-and-a-half-year fellowship comprised of academic support, mentoring, college success planning, leadership training, and career guidance. TEAK guides students through course selection, conducts personal visits to their respective campuses, hosts career exploration and readiness workshops through partner companies during holiday breaks and summers, and helps students and their families renew their financial aid requests annually. Our 2020 support enabled TEAK to launch its Professional Coaching Program which matches rising college juniors with a professional in their field of interest. This coach assists with goal-setting and career guidance, helps students navigate the process of obtaining a job post-graduation, and expands College Scholars’ networks.
We have been focused on the difficult issue of transfer credits and continued to provide support to this problem in 2020. When students transfer from one college to another, they frequently are unable to count their previously-earned credits toward degree requirements at their new institution, jeopardizing their ability to earn degrees. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated this problem. Our 2020 support enabled the public launch of one of the products of a multifaceted credit transfer project: Transfer Explorer. Hosted by Lehman College and created in partnership with Ithaka S+R, Transfer Explorer offers organized, searchable, user-friendly information on how every course in the CUNY catalog transfers across any number of undergraduate institutions within CUNY. Transfer Explorer draws current data directly from CUNY’s student information system, is accessible to the public, and is completely free to use—the first time such information has been made so widely available.