Mentoring changes trajectory of adult student’s life
Written by Jane M. Von Bergen
Photo by I. George Bilyk
When Shannon Gallagher, Gries Financial Partners’ director of client services, first landed a job with the wealth management firm as a temp receptionist at age 21, she was already good at a couple of things.
She was good at leaving college. “My mom likes to say it: I didn’t go to Akron University. I was enrolled. It was fun. I had a good time.” Probably too good a time, since she wasn’t allowed to come back. Same thing happened when Gallagher attended Cuyahoga Community College for two and a half semesters. “I lost interest and just stopped going.”
Gallagher was also good at losing jobs – through no fault of her own, however. Mostly she worked in retail and “the stores kept closing, going bankrupt.”
Worse, she was also quite proficient at being in debt, with $15,000 in college bills and no degree to show for it, plus not much ability to pay it back.
Her situation is completely different now.
Gallagher’s back in college, heading toward an associate degree in applied business, with a bachelor’s and more on the horizon. She has steadily advanced at Gries, and now directs client services at the Cleveland company. Most importantly, “We’re actively talking about the future of the firm, succession plans,” she said. “I’m one of ones that they are talking about being a future executive and a future partner in this firm. That’s their plan for me.”
What made the difference for Gallagher?
“Shannon’s very goal-oriented. I’ve worked with a lot of people in my many years in business who just want to be given a promotion, but don’t understand what it takes to make that next step. Shannon does. She gets it.”
That’s Gallagher’s mentor speaking.
Lauren Rich Fine, a partner at Gries Financial with decades of Wall Street experience, has long believed in the power of mentoring. She saw it work to keep young people on track for college and she believes the same principles apply to adults like Gallagher, “comebackers” returning to school. Fine would like to see others step up to become mentors.
“It’s not only the money,” Fine said. “It’s the mentoring. It’s also the encouragement to go back to school. I can give Shannon a specific game plan of how she can get credentials and I can work with her. I can be very honest and very direct. She’s never let me down.”
Fine has taken this belief in mentoring to College Now Greater Cleveland, where she serves on the organization’s board, helping to build Cleveland’s graduation rate for both young people and for “comebackers” like Gallagher.
In Ohio, just over one in four adults has a bachelor’s degree or higher. One in five adults, 20.5 percent, are people who began college, but didn’t finish.
Meanwhile, Northeast Ohio, with its population of 4.3 million, should be producing 37,600 college graduates a year, based on national averages. Instead, only 31,300 earn diplomas, according to the 2019 Aligning Opportunities report by Team NEO, Northeast Ohio’s business development organization.
It’s a problem for the region’s economy. “It has to happen in Northeast Ohio or else we’re going to go out of business, honestly,” said Lee Friedman, chief executive officer of College Now.
For 50 years, College Now has maintained a laser focus on increasing post-secondary educational attainment – from college to professional certificates – in the greater Cleveland area, helping 29,000 a year. Mentorship matters.
In the Bridging the Talent Gap Employee Community Report for Cleveland, one in five adult learners surveyed identified mentoring as helpful in achieving education goals. The 2019 report, funded by the Graduate Network, pointed out that one in four adult learners – 26 percent – wanted educational advice geared to career goals.
The study also indicated that adults who don’t return to school sometimes don’t because they can’t see how their courses would clearly benefit their careers. That wasn’t the case for Gallagher, who had a path clearly delineated through her mentorship with Fine and other Gries’ executives over the years.
When Gallagher began as temp, she proved so competent that the firm hired her fulltime. Soon she became indispensable, promoted to executive assistant. Then, a few years later, a competitor tried to hire her away. Gries’ executives took notice. To convince her to stay, they developed a new position for her as a mutual fund trading assistant. Five or six years after that, she became director of trading.
“If you need to find out what you should be doing with your investment, talk to your advisor. If there’s an action that needs to be taken, that’s when you come to me,” Gallagher said. “We execute everything.”
Meanwhile, Gallagher got married and divorced. Her ex-husband died, which was emotionally devastating. She had surgeries. She managed to buy a house. While she thought about going back to school, she never actually took the necessary steps. In fact, Gallagher thought she was doing pretty well for someone without a college degree.
Yes, she was doing good, but good was not good enough for Lauren Rich Fine, and not good enough for Gallagher either. “Now I know what I don’t know,” Gallagher said. “I can talk your ear off until I’m blue in the face about operations, but I can’t hold a conversation about the market.”
Fine told Gallagher in no uncertain terms that for her to advance to the top at Gries, she’d need at least a four-year diploma like her colleagues.
If Gallagher was going to be listed as a partner on the firm’s website, her bio would have to indicate where she earned her degree. That was non-negotiable. “Appearances matter and people who say they don’t are naïve,” Gallagher said. “In practice, I could probably run circles around some recent college grads, because I’ve been doing this. But they have the one thing that I don’t — and that’s that piece of paper.”
After listening to Gallagher talk about getting her diploma for a couple of years, Fine finally asked, “Why don’t you go? What’s holding you back?’”
In September, Gallagher enrolled at Cuyahoga Community College – step one. Truthfully, much of the work came easy to her; she already knew a lot of the terms and she always had a head for math.
“To give you an example, we’re learning about how to write up financial statements and income reports, balance sheets and cash flow reports, which are reports that I have been preparing for accountants” for years, Gallagher said. “But right now, I’m actually understanding what a cash flow report means. I’m actually understanding what these particular numbers mean for this report. I’m actually interested.”
Meanwhile, Gallagher is getting the support she needs. College Now helped her apply for financial aid. Gries allows her to leave early one day a week to accommodate her class schedule. She’s gotten some financial help from Fine and expects the firm will contribute later.
The way Fine sees it, Gallagher is making all the right moves. Besides pursuing her degree, she’s following Fine’s lead as a volunteer and leader in nonprofits, taking on increasingly responsible leadership positions which stretch her capabilities outside of Gries’ offices in downtown Cleveland. Those same commitments create networks and connections in the community, helpful for a company selling wealth management services.
“Shannon has confidence because she knows she is the subject matter expert about so many things within our organization,” Fine said. “But they aren’t things that grow the firm. To grow the firm, she needs different skills. Anytime you’re helping grow a firm, they can find the resources to reward you.
“We’re aiming to position her for that.”
Innovation with Excellence: A Look Inside College Now’s Organizational Culture
What keeps College Now’s 180+ employees focused and happy in their work? Lee Friedman, CEO of College Now, shares her insights about leading a growing, innovative non-profit addressing educational inequities in Northeast Ohio:
When you were approached about joining College Now as its CEO in 2010, what made you want the job?
It was because I’d spent such a long time in community economic development and saw the social inequity and disparity caused by the ‘haves and have-nots’ in education. I realized that the only way to create social equity — and also long-term economic health for our region — was to ensure that everybody had the opportunity to get a postsecondary credential.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I see myself as a strong stage-setter, but I like to create a collaborative, highly empowered team. I think people that like working for me are extraordinarily driven by excellence – they have a huge commitment to mission, they’re self-starters, but they also ‘play well with others’.
What are College Now’s best assets in terms of organizational culture?
I think this is a very supportive place to work. I think there is a high ethos around balancing career and family, friends, or other outside interests — sort of with the caveat that people put their work in an important enough place that the work is delivered with excellence. It’s not very difficult for a CEO to be flexible and try to support people’s other life if the work is great. It’s when the work isn’t great that it gets hard because then something’s being sacrificed. I think here, remarkably, considering it’s a large organization, those are really the kind of people that enjoy it and thrive here… I think that’s a big part of what we’re offering.
How does College Now support the professional growth and development of its employees?
We do that in many ways depending on the position. On our advising side, there are constant advising meetings and a lot of that is around skill-building and problem-solving. Our HR folks and professional development committee try to make sure that we’ve got things that match all the different parts of our employee population, especially because we have a lot of diversity of people that work here, in terms of their experience and their age, etc. We’ve certainly sent people to different kinds of training, whether its leadership training or skill-building. We do our best to try and make sure that people have what they need, but we kind of juxtapose it with the fact that we have a small budget for that sort of thing. Being mission–driven, it’s not like working for some big for-profit company where you can send people to those fancy trainings and leadership camps – we just can’t do it. But we do our best.
What makes you most proud of your team?
For me, and I hope the team feels this way, it’s a happy place to come to work every day. You spend a lot of time here [compared to] when you think about how much time you spend sleeping or your other time. It’s happy, I think, because we try to hire the most responsible, committed, and collaborative people. I think when people feel they can have some control over what they do in their every day, and that they’re well supported, well treated, and don’t have to be afraid of making a mistake — because everyone makes mistakes –I think that creates a happy culture.
College Now has a strong track record of retaining talent. What common characteristics do successful, long-standing employees demonstrate?
A real commitment to the mission and the organization, and commitment to their own excellence. Driving the extra mile to make sure the work is as good as it possibly can be. [Understanding] that we’re customer/client-first, especially because we do so much public-facing work – everything from our students and their parents, to other educators and school administrators, funders, Board members, community leaders, and other nonprofits; people with that same point of view and [those who] are the best kind of communicators and collaborators.
College Now was the first organization of its kind in the country. How do you maintain a culture of innovation to keep College Now at the forefront of college access?
Honestly, you have to reward it. And you have to instill it. You can’t rest on, ‘Well, we haven’t done it that way in the past.’ We’ve grown quite a bit in the last number of years and a lot of that is because people around the table – and I mean that in the biggest way – when they have new ideas, people listen to them. It doesn’t mean you can implement every new idea, and it doesn’t even mean that some of them that don’t get implemented are bad ideas, it just may not be practical right now. But you have to really emphasize innovation and you have to reward it in the culture.
College Now has a team in its downtown Cleveland headquarters, as well as a team of Advisors who work primarily within schools across Northeast Ohio. How does College Now maintain a culture of collaboration and inclusion within an organization that provides services in 185 venues?
Honestly, it’s not the easiest thing in the world to do. Because, you have to remember, when somebody goes to one or two buildings every day and never comes downtown, in some part, most of their experience is in that building. The culture of that building will have a huge effect on the way they view their job. And sometimes that’s a good thing and sometimes it‘s been a very difficult thing. [In the advising department], they have ongoing monthly meetings to bring everybody together to get back on the same page, to address concerns, to provide additional training, leadership, information, and news, and I think that’s crucial. It is one of the more interesting challenges because coming to the downtown office every day is an entirely different experience than going to one of the high schools or a library every day.
How does College Now’s work address economic inequality? How are its employees positively impacting the greater Cleveland community?
Research shows that people with varying levels of postsecondary attainment make more money during their lifetime [than those without postsecondary education]. What we know is that Northeast Ohio is woefully under–attained. There are many open jobs and many people who are either unemployed and/or undereducated for those open jobs. And so, there are other communities that do a better job of it for whatever reason. Maybe it’s a cultural thing. [Cleveland] was a blue–collar manufacturing community, and that takes generations to change sometimes. Ohio is the 7th largest state, but we’re 36th in educational attainment and that is not a great recipe for long-term economic health. And so, to the extent that we can work with the students, communities, and adults we serve and get them on a postsecondary track, it not only helps them personally and changes the trajectory of their own life and their family life, but it changes the collective economic picture.
What is your vision for College Now in the next 5 to 10 years?
A lot of it is just continuing to grow and refine the work. Say Yes to Education is a six-year ramp up and we’re in year one. I don’t think that changes everything but that’s a good amount of runway to start changing the hope for young people in CMSD to be able to go to postsecondary or get on a solid career path. The implementation of Say Yes Cleveland is a piece of it.
I also think the expanding work we’re doing with adults is a very big piece of it. I think Julie Szeltner [Senior Director of Adult Programs and Services] has done a great job of trying to grow that piece of our business. There‘s roughly 500,000 people in Cuyahoga County that either have some college and no degree or a high school diploma and nothing else. There’s a big opportunity there. You almost can’t solve the workforce gap on the backs of 18–year old‘s, you almost have to go to the adults.
I think the other big piece is us refining our ability to lead kids from education to career. If you’re going to stop at the end of high school and go do something, let’s get better about helping you think through those options, with the hope that most everybody takes some kind of postsecondary option. If we can get better at showing you what all your options are, you might be able to make a better choice as you maneuver through and understand what the consequences will be, like, “How much postsecondary education will I need? How much income can I expect to make? What‘s the demand in this region for that job?” That’s another really important piece of the work that we’ll be doing with partners.
*This interview has been edited lightly for clarity and length*
Rethinking the Traditional College Student
When prompted to picture a college student, many people defer to an image of a young, recent high-school graduate who is pursuing postsecondary education before launching their career. But College Now knows that this image does not encompass the experience of many students pursuing higher education.
Each year, millions of adults are enrolled in college and are often referred to as adult learners or “nontraditional” students; however, 41% of college students are over the age of 25! Supporting this “new traditional” college student has become such a priority that College Now offers an Adult Learner Scholarship, which is available for Pell-eligible adults 19 years and older who do not already have a college degree or postsecondary credential.
Getting more adults to complete a postsecondary program is important not only for the trajectory of the individual’s career, but for the benefit of our community’s well-being and economic growth, as well.
Currently, Ohio’s degree attainment rate sits at 38%, with a goal of reaching 60% by 2025. Many of the adults that College Now works with already have some postsecondary education but don’t necessarily have a degree or certificate to impress potential employers. According to Degrees When Due, a project of the Institute for Higher Education Policy, Ohio has over 136,000 potential completers, meaning individuals who have some college education, but no degree.
By 2025, 65% of jobs in Ohio will require a postsecondary credential. Which is why, in addition to working with adult learners, College Now offers talent solution services to employers to ensure that their talent pipeline is prepared to meet the needs of the 2025 economy and beyond. College Now also partners with local higher education institutions to recruit potential completers, also referred to as “comebackers,” to return to school to complete their degree.
Based on Ohio’s current attainment rate and goal for 2025, our community has a lot of work to do, but College Now is committed to narrowing the degree attainment gap in Ohio.
Though the process of re-enrolling in school or enrolling for the first time may seem daunting, College Now offers a variety of resources to ensure that adults receive the support they need to complete a degree. One adult scholarship recipient shared, “I knew that I was getting older and I couldn’t do the type of work that I was used to doing, so I needed to reorganize and reinvent myself and go back to school. College Now has helped me out tremendously as far as coordinating my time, getting my paperwork together, and telling me what I didn’t know.”
Between raising children, supporting aging parents, juggling work schedules, and managing other responsibilities, the college experience of adult learners is complex, and yet, increasingly more common. Located in downtown Cleveland, College Now’s Resource Center is equipped with specialists that work with adults to strategically manage their degree plans and overcome barriers to obtaining a degree.
College Now staff hold expertise in applying for federal financial aid, managing loans for students who may be in default, and finding scholarship opportunities. They are also trained to assist with choosing a degree program or educational institution that best fits the client, and to connect students with additional resources on their respective campuses.
Whether you’re returning to school to complete the last few credits for your degree, because you want to set an example for your children, or you’re looking to expand your career opportunities, College Now has resources to help you succeed – schedule an appointment today!
Bag Lady 2019: The Curious Connection Between Handbags and College Access
On September 12th, nearly 600 guests gathered at the Great Lakes Science Center for College Now’s fourth Bag Lady event, a biennial silent auction that supports the organization’s Mentoring Program.
Since 2011, College Now has paired volunteers from the business community with students who receive a College Now scholarship. Mentors and mentees build a relationship throughout the student’s college career, though many pairs stay connected far beyond graduation.
The Mentoring Program is critical to College Now’s work in helping students stay in college to see their degree through to completion. With the added layer of support from a mentor, 92% of College Now mentees return to college after their first year, in contrast to the national average of 74%.
With the arrival of Say Yes Cleveland, the Mentoring Program has grown dramatically this past year. Among the four national Say Yes chapters, Cleveland is the only site committed to pairing every Say Yes Scholarship recipient with a mentor, which College Now facilitates while continuing to maintain services for traditional College Now scholarship recipients.
Bag Lady’s goal is to help sustain and grow the Mentoring Program’s services, and College Now is proud to share that this year’s event raised over $400,000 for the program. While guests enjoy the opportunity to browse and bid on Bag Lady’s auction items, it’s important to College Now that attendees leave with more than an exciting addition to their closet.
To center the organization’s mission at the core of Bag Lady, this year guests were fortunate to hear from two College Now alumnae, Leah Hudnall and Shelby Roberts, who spoke about their postsecondary journeys with College Now, moderated by the illustrious Margot Copeland, formerly of KeyBank and the KeyBank Foundation.
Shelby, a recent graduate of Cleveland State University’s Washkewicz College of Engineering, shared her story of perseverance and the resources she leaned on, like College Now, while transferring schools and remaining enrolled during the loss of a close family member. Leah, a Howard University alumna, inspired attendees while speaking about intentionally remaining tied to Cleveland while she was away at school because resources like College Now were critical to her postsecondary success.
Both young women have now launched careers in northeast Ohio. Shelby works as a Transportation Engineer for Mott MacDonald and is pursuing her Masters of Civil and Environmental Engineering from Cleveland State University. Leah, who completed her Master of Arts in Nonprofit Administration from John Carroll University in 2015, currently serves as a Program Officer at Saint Luke’s Foundation.
College Now is extremely grateful to these remarkable young women for sharing their stories and for their help in educating Bag Lady guests and the greater Cleveland community about why College Now’s services are important to a student’s postsecondary success.
Bag Lady is a unique and exciting opportunity for College Now to garner support for the organization’s work, but as the 2019 event buzz dwindles, we know that the most important work will only continue to accelerate.
As Say Yes Cleveland services become embedded throughout the entire Cleveland Metropolitan School District over the course of the next few years, more students will receive scholarships and enter College Now’s Mentoring Program, which means the need for mentors is more pertinent now than ever.
College Now is excited to launch recruitment efforts later this fall to build up the next class of mentors who will play a crucial role in supporting future college students. We hope you’ll consider volunteering as a mentor or help us to spread the word among your networks as we look forward to the growth of the Mentoring Program.
If you have questions or are interested in becoming a mentor, please contact Madeline Rife, Director of the Mentoring Program, at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.collegenowgc.org/become-a-mentor/.
“We’re miracles, that’s what we are.”
College Now Greater Cleveland hosts adult scholars summit
By Jane M. Von Bergen
Photos by I. George Bilyk
Inside the library, all was quiet as is usual in libraries – just whispers and murmuring.
Even so, nobody shushed Patricia Gray, 58, and Victoria Gallagher, 57, as they hugged in the corridor, alternately weeping and smiling, trying to keep their joy courteous, given the location.
“We’re miracles, that’s what we are,” Gallagher said.
Gray and Gallagher hadn’t known each other before that September Saturday, when they met at the Brooklyn branch of the Cuyahoga County Public Library for an Adult Scholars Summit held by College Now Greater Cleveland, an affiliate of The Graduate! Network, a national organization.
For 50 years, College Now has maintained a laser focus on increasing post-secondary educational attainment – from college to professional certificates – in the greater Cleveland area, helping 29,000 a year. Mentorship matters.
In the Bridging the Talent Gap Employee Community Report for Cleveland, one in five adult learners surveyed identified mentoring as helpful in achieving education goals. The 2019 report, funded in part by Walmart, the Cleveland Indians, Team NEO and College Now, pointed out that one in four adult learners – 26 percent – wanted educational advice geared to career goals.
And while College Now annually recruits hundreds of mentors to pair with its traditional scholarship recipients, there simply aren’t enough for adults returning to college after years away from the classroom.
So, at least for now, if the adult learners were going to be mentored, they’d have to mentor themselves. And, for guidance on career-building basics like LinkedIn and resume writing, well, they’d have to do it as a group.
Which was, as it turns out, plenty OK.
The food at the College Now event was good – coffee, chicken, cookies and some salad for the virtuous among the 30 or so gathered in a meeting room. The sessions were even better, featuring presenters on LinkedIn and resume writing. Volunteers stood ready to offer suggestions.
But the best?
The connections forged between people like Gray and Gallagher. College Now wisely set aside time so participants could exchange business cards – and, more importantly, encouragement.
As adult students well beyond traditional college years, Gray and Gallagher shared a common life story with others in the room. To be in college, they and many others there had to struggle — sometimes daily — with poverty, abuse, addiction and crippling self-doubt. It’s not only the story in Ohio, but across the nation. It’s a narration that The Graduate! Network is trying to change one comebacker at a time.
“You think you’re the only one, until you are put in this situation where you can meet each other,” Gallagher said. “It’s a big relief.”
Gray nodded and pressed Gallagher’s hands in hers. “Nobody would have thought I’d be where I am today,” she said.
In Ohio, just over one in four adults has a bachelor’s degree or higher. One in five adults, 20.5 percent, are like Gallagher – people who began college, but didn’t finish. College graduates typically command higher earnings. But adults who don’t finish don’t get the earnings bump that comes with a diploma. Worse, they are often saddled with college debt they can’t afford to pay.
Gallagher bounced around the country as a military spouse, earning an associate degree while she stayed home, raising five children. When her husband left the Marines, they moved to Medina, Ohio. Over time, Gallagher said, she faced escalating domestic abuse. “He even threw things at me in the grocery store.” Struggling to cope, she turned to alcohol, eventually conquering a three-year addiction.
Next? An ugly divorce. The children lived in the family home with their father, and “I was homeless during the divorce, until the court intervened.”
She turned to Cuyahoga Community College en route to a four-year degree, earning a second associate degree. The Women In Transition program there connected her to College Now, which is helping Gallagher graduate from Ursuline College with a bachelor’s degree in social work – she should get her diploma in 2020.
“I’ve already been offered positions,” she said.
Until she finishes, Gallagher cleans houses. “It’s how I pay my bills,” she said. “Sometimes I clean three or four houses a day.”
Because of her $2,000-a-semester scholarship from College Now, Gallagher can clean less, giving her time for the unpaid internship both required for graduation and key to building a career.
Gray’s story? “Fifteen years of depression and addiction,” she said. “I never thought that messing up my life would now allow me to help others.”
After Gray’s mother died when Gray was 34, Gray spiraled into depression and addiction. Her cousin raised her son while Gray slept in shelters and on friends’ sofas.
By 2010, Gray managed to get clean and enroll at Cuyahoga Community College. In 2017, she earned an associate degree in information technology. “Once I accomplished that,” she said, “I realized there wasn’t anything I couldn’t do.”
Except — she ran out of money.
College Now rescued her dream with scholarships. Gray expects to earn a bachelor’s degree in IT project management from Ohio University in 2020. Meanwhile, she juggles schoolwork with a counseling job and IT consulting work.
For Gray, the diploma will mean “living a dream that was deferred and showing others that no matter where you were, you don’t have to stay there.” Gallagher offered one word: “Stability.”
In the library, both women talked about the most basic benefit – respect. Instead of being talked to and lectured at, their education has already put them in the position of being listened to and treated as knowledgeable professionals.
“For the adult learner, there are so many barriers that have to be addressed,” Gray told the group earlier. “You need that support. A lot of people who aren’t on this journey don’t understand what this is about.
“I’m so grateful this is being recognized,” she said, turning to the College Now staffers who organized Saturday’s event. “Thank you.”
Navigating the Postsecondary Path: Three Focus Areas for Upperclassmen in a New Academic Year
“What are your plans after high school?”
It’s a question all students face at some point in their high school careers, often well before even reaching senior year. As a new school year gets underway, upperclassmen especially will start to engage in more frequent conversations about life after school and will be encountering an increasing amount of responsibility as graduation nears.
College Now supports all students we serve in their unique postsecondary journeys (be in pursuing a four-year or two-year degree or license/credential), and as the school year begins, our advisors are prepared to guide students through all facets of planning for life beyond high school. For upperclassmen, College Now recommends keeping in mind these key elements for pursuing postsecondary education:
FINANCIAL AID AND SCHOLARSHIPS
For most students, affordability remains their top concern regarding higher education. Whether students consider a two- or four-year degree, an apprenticeship, or a certificate program, upperclassmen should research and inquire about a variety of financial aid resources. College Now encourages students and families to have conversations about finances early on to ensure that students have access to as many resources as possible.
Many students postpone their search for scholarships until spring semester of their senior year. However, several opportunities hold much earlier deadlines! For example, every year, the Cleveland Browns Foundation, in partnership with College Now, awards two seniors with a $10,000 scholarship, and the application (found here) remains open only through September 30th, 2019.
Additionally, College Now advisors can assist students in answering questions about eligibility for the Say Yes Scholarship, a tuition gap-closing scholarship available to all eligible students attending an Ohio public four-year university, two-year college, eligible trade or certificate program, or partnering private college in the national Say Yes Higher Education Compact. Students who meet residential requirements and attend a CMSD or eligible partnering charter high school from 9th through 12th grade are eligible. For more information, visit SayYesCleveland.org.
College Now advisors will also begin the year reminding seniors that the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) opens on October 1st, 2019. Completing the FAFSA remains an essential step in funding one’s postsecondary education and College Now recommends that students and parents gather all necessary documentation ahead of time to ensure a smooth filing process.
ACADEMIC PERFORMANCE AND ENTRANCE EXAM PREP
For many high school juniors and seniors, their stress centers around college entrance exams. To help students achieve their best results, College Now offers an 8-week program called impact!, which is designed to improve students’ ACT, SAT, and PSAT scores and increase students’ college and career readiness with a focus on reading and math. Registration for this program, hosted at nine different locations, is available here.
In addition to test scores, postsecondary admission representatives will review students’ academic performance based on GPA and difficulty of coursework. For juniors, keep in mind that most colleges will require 11th grade transcripts with applications, so it’s important to maintain strong grades during this academic year. But that doesn’t mean that seniors receive a free pass! Most postsecondary programs require students to send their final transcripts after graduation before students can officially enroll, so beware of “senioritis,” and continue to put forth your best effort.
FINDING THE RIGHT FIT
Finances and academics make up only part of the postsecondary equation. Discovering the right postsecondary fit is equally important to a student’s success beyond high school. To guide students through this process, College Now advisors utilize the MAP (Managing Advancement Programs) Database, a clearinghouse of training and education programs that lead to in-demand jobs in Northeast Ohio. This tool, among others, helps students determine which opportunities best suit their skills and interests and how that applies to a career.
Financial aid, academic performance, and uncovering the right fit significantly impact a student’s plans for postsecondary education. College Now continues to utilize a variety of resources to guide students through their individual paths to postsecondary success and looks forward to working with students throughout this academic year!
Turning Readers into Leaders: The Inaugural CLE Reads Book Festival
On July 13th, over 125 students, parents, and community members gathered at the downtown branch of the Cleveland Public Library for the inaugural CLE Reads Book Festival. In addition to the Cleveland Public Library, College Now served as a sponsor and supported the newly developed CLE Reads initiative in bringing the first book festival of its kind to the city.
The festival was created by three local founders, including College Now Manager of Advising Programs and Services Bailey Capelle, who were inspired by The Bronx Book Festival in New York City. They sought to carry out a similar vision in Northeast Ohio with a mission to “promote literacy and foster a deep love for reading within the Cleveland community,” particularly with local youth in mind.
Once hearing the CLE Reads mission, the 21st Century team at College Now recognized this festival as an excellent opportunity to compliment the work of the impact! program. This program, made possible with funds granted by the Ohio Department of Education through the 21st Century Community Learning Centers grants, is administered in partnership with like-minded community organizations. It is designed to improve students’ ACT, SAT, and PSAT scores and increase students’ college and career readiness with a focus on math and reading.
A major goal of the impact! program is to promote reading among students, as College Now knows that it positively effects students’ performance on standardized tests and college entrance exams. While some students gravitate toward reading more than others, site coordinators have found that resistant students become more engaged when they find literature relatable to their own lives. That’s why the vision of CLE Reads, to champion diversity and representation in literature, is so important: In order for students to have the best opportunities, resources need to be delivered thoughtfully.
The festival brought 14 award-winning, bestselling, and critically acclaimed young adult and middle-grade authors to Cleveland to share their works and encourage a love for literature among students. They represented different backgrounds, experiences, and identities, and spoke on a variety of topics spanning from fiction to fantasy, and romance to cultural traditions. Five authors were local to Ohio, including one from Cuyahoga County and one from Lorain County, and the remaining traveled from Boston, California, and New York to attend.
Participants enjoyed a range of activities throughout the day. Authors spoke on panels with topics on love, heroism, creating alternate universes, and more. Attendees were also able to participate in breakout sessions in which they gathered insights about building strong characters and artfully constructing plot to apply to their own writing skill development.
In addition to the rich educational opportunities available at the festival, the CLE Reads team distributed 205 free books to the students and families in attendance, many of whom were able to get their new books personally signed by the authors on-site.
College Now was honored to partner for this inaugural event and looks forward to continuing to support the CLE Reads Book Festival in their work to turn student readers into leaders!
Freezing Summer Melt
Have you ever been excited to try a new activity, only to realize it was more time-intensive and confusing than you originally thought? Were there unwritten rules that you hadn’t known about previously and even additional supplies to purchase that you hadn’t anticipated? Perhaps you quickly got frustrated and, after struggling to get advice from your friends or family who hadn’t tried similar activities, your excitement quickly dwindled, and you never actually followed through.
This metaphor offers a glimpse into the experiences of many first and low-income students in the post-secondary planning process. Despite being college-ready and displaying behaviors that indicate they will go to college, a significant number of under-resourced students don’t show up on campus in the fall for several reasons, including:
- densely worded financial aid documents, intimidating financial gaps, and confusing payment processes;
- navigating steps to complete placements tests (there are more tests?!), registering for orientation, and deciding which classes to take;
- completing housing forms, sending health records, and choosing a meal-plan;
- and numerous other hurdles.
Missing a deadline on one or more of these items can generate the difference between a first-generation, low-income student showing up to campus feeling prepared, or getting discouraged and not showing up at all in August.
In the college access world, we call this summer melt. The Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard University estimates that ten to forty percent of students who demonstrate intent to enroll fail to do so in the months after their high school graduation.
This phenomenon is not new. In fact, there’s been a lot of buzz around this topic for the last decade, but it remains a critical factor in our collective efforts to broaden access to postsecondary education nationally and in the greater Cleveland area.
Many institutions and organizations have implemented different intervention strategies, like automated chat-bots and text-messaging systems that “nudge” students when a to-do item is approaching. At College Now, our advisors provide numerous resources during the school year, like “transition to college” workshops, to ensure that college-ready students are as prepared as possible to head off to campus in the fall. But our work doesn’t end when students cross the stage at graduation.
Our advisors continue to work with students and remain available for questions throughout the summer. Additionally, our scholarship recipients are required to complete summer information sessions with our Scholarships and Financial Aid team to ensure they understand their financial aid awards and any potential funding gaps they may have. And finally, our scholarship recipients are paired with mentors toward the end of the summer – professionals who have navigated the college experience themselves and are able to help students overcome some of the obstacles they may face as they begin their first semester.
Enrolling in and completing a postsecondary degree or credential – or not – has long-term implications for the students and the communities in which they live. Individuals with bachelor’s degrees earn 65 percent more – the equivalent of $1 million over the course of a career – than their counterparts with only a high school diploma. The community benefits from having more credentialed residents, too. Areas with more college graduates have lower crime rates, enhanced community services, reduced reliance on government safety net services and a larger tax base.
As a community, it is in all our best interests to support students and combat summer melt. Check in with students that you know and ask them when they’re scheduled for orientation and what classes they’ve signed up for in the fall. Encourage them to thoroughly explore their college’s website and familiarize themselves with all the resources available to them. Most importantly, help them become self-advocates and build perseverance when they encounter challenges.
College Now Chief Program Officer Dr. Michele Scott Taylor Testifies Before U.S. Senate HELP Committee on FAFSA Simplification and Verification
College Now Chief Program Officer Dr. Michele Scott Taylor Testifies Before U.S. Senate HELP Committee on FAFSA Simplification and Verification
On March 12, 2019, College Now’s Chief Program Officer Dr. Michele Scott Taylor sat in front of the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions as one of four experts called on to testify during the full committee hearing on “Reauthorizing the Higher Education Act: Simplifying the FAFSA and Reducing the Burden of Verification.”
Michele, along with Kristina Scott, Executive Director of Alabama Possible, Michael Meotti, Executive Director of Washington Student Achievement Council, and Dr. Mark Wiederspan, Executive Research Officer at Iowa Student Aid, spoke to the Senate HELP Committee about concerns and challenges faced by students, particularly low-income, first-generation students, when filling out the FAFSA in its current state.
During her testimony, Michele reiterated that both the real and perceived complexity of the FAFSA is a hinderance for the students and families who need Federal financial aid the most. Drawing on her own experience as a first-generation college student, Michele also emphasized that transparency of information is vital to the college application process, stating that, “Getting to and through college is a full-time job.”
During the question portion of the hearing, Michele was asked about Federal programs such as GEAR UP, TriO, and 21st Century Community Learning Center programming. Michele advocated for these programs, describing how they enable early access to the college-going process and facilitate earlier and deeper conversations about postsecondary education.
Michele’s colleagues on the panel advocated for similar changes and approaches to fixing the FAFSA. Kristina Scott from Alabama Possible presented the solution of simplifying and streamlining the FAFSA without using confusing terms that students and families may not understand. Michael Meotti of Washington Student Achievement Council recommended fixing the verification system and building more student-friendly pathways in the financial aid system.
Dr. Mark Wiederspan of Iowa College Aid emphasized that all individuals should have the same opportunity to pursue the benefits that college and higher education bring, but the FAFSA can make pursuing higher education more difficult for many students.
The groundwork for Michele’s testifying had been laid during a trip to Capital Hill by College Now and Higher Education Compact staff members Kittie Warshawsky and Margie Glick. After hearing that the Senate HELP Committee would be having a hearing on FAFSA simplification and verification, Margie and Kittie contacted NCAN to express College Now’s enthusiasm about potentially testifying.
College Now is proud of the testimony by Michele, Kristina Scott, Michael Meotti, and Dr. Mark Wiederspan, and looks forward to following the U.S. Senate HELP Committee’s progress surrounding issues of FAFSA simplification and verification.
Making Robert Coplan’s Dream a Reality: Say Yes Cleveland
When Robert Coplan and an anonymous donor founded College Now Greater Cleveland in 1967 (then the Cleveland Scholarship Program), their goal was, at its core, simple: to find a way to enable all students in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD) to go to college. They started their work by offering scholarships to CMSD high school students, but soon saw that students weren’t taking the money. Why? Because they didn’t know what they needed to do to get to college; there needed to be a culture of college knowledge created in the school buildings, and the community, to show these students the steps they needed to take to apply to and get accepted into college.
It was out of this that College Now as we know it today was born. Robert Coplan and the anonymous donor began placing advisors in CMSD high schools to give students advice and guidance on the college-going process, and the work soon grew so that College Now was serving students throughout Northeast Ohio and adult learners.
Throughout all that growth and transformation, though, the original dream of Coplan and the donor has always been there: to find a way for all CMSD students to afford to go to college. As other cities throughout the nation have developed strategies such as promise programs and universal scholarships, our community contemplated these things, as well, wondering what we could do in Cleveland to achieve the dream that Robert Coplan and that donor set out to achieve over 50 years ago.
And then, the opportunity presented itself in Say Yes to Education, a nonprofit that helps communities improve education by providing support services and tuition scholarships to students.
Cleveland has long been a community that works together to make the impossible happen. That is why, when the time came to find a way to get all CMSD students to college, it would be a community-wide effort that would be successful. Almost three years ago, a group of like-minded organizations and community representatives got together to start the work of turning Cleveland into the next Say Yes to Education city. Through deep, intense community commitment, which included evaluating all the services in Cleveland currently providing student supports, reviewing how those services can deepen and become even more effective, and raising $88.4 million, the dream of College Now’s original founders is finally being realized.
As a Say Yes to Education chapter, students will receive services in schools and tuition scholarships once they graduate from a CMSD high school. Services in school will range from legal and health services to college and career advising, all the way from kindergarten through twelfth grade. Students will be able to receive one of two scholarships once they graduate: a Say Yes Cleveland tuition gap-closing scholarship available to all eligible students attending an Ohio public four-year university, two-year college, or Pell eligible trade-certificate program, or a Say Yes Compact tuition gap-closing scholarship available to all eligible students attending over 100 private colleges in the Say Yes Higher Education Compact nationwide.
It is the hope of the entire Cleveland community that offering these intensive, wraparound services with a gap-closing tuition scholarship award will completely change the postsecondary conversation in Cleveland. We know that education is the key to so many opportunities post high school, and that an educated workforce is what Cleveland needs to be competitive in the national economy. The support from the community on this massive project shows that they understand this need, as well, and are willing to dedicate resources to make it happen.
The impact that Say Yes Cleveland will have on these students and their postsecondary journeys is one that College Now has dreamed about since 1967. Together, the Cleveland community has realized this dream and made it a reality. We cannot wait to see how Say Yes Cleveland changes the conversation about education and changes these students’ lives. To all of our partners who worked tirelessly to bring Say Yes to Cleveland, we cannot thank you enough for your support in this endeavor.
Together, we did it.
To learn more about Say Yes Cleveland, including residency and enrollment requirements for receiving the Say Yes Cleveland Scholarship, visit www.sayyescleveland.org.
November 8, 2018: First-Generation College Celebration
Today marks the second annual First-Generation College Celebration, launched last year by the Council for Opportunity in Education and the Center for First-generation Student Success. This event marks the anniversary of the signing of the 1965 Higher Education Act, which helped millions of low-income students become the first in their families to earn college degrees.
Here at College Now, many of the students we serve daily are – or will become – first-generation college students. These students are among the first in their families to view college as a viable option and to think about education after high school. Our advisors help these students learn the ropes of the college application process, help them discover the ins and outs of postsecondary education that their classmates with parents or family members who have postsecondary degrees may already know. Once these students move on to their postsecondary education, the questions don’t stop – which is where the College Now Mentoring Program comes into play.
The College Now Mentoring Program pairs College Now scholarship recipients with mentors in the Greater Cleveland community who help them through their postsecondary years. Especially for first-generation college students, having someone to help them through their college years is a vital part of their success. And, many of our mentors are first-generation college students themselves! They have been in the same place as many of our scholarship recipients, so can provide advice that is exactly what these students need to hear.
Being the first in a family to attend college may be intimidating. However, as many of our mentors and current students have seen, the struggles of being a first-generation college student are more than worth it in the end. But don’t take our word for it – here are some thoughts straight from our mentors and students themselves!
“I would not be where I am today without my education. At the time my family didn’t really understand how things worked but they did know it was important that I complete my degree. I’m forever grateful for that ‘push.’” – Terry J., mentor
“If the major is carefully chosen and high grades achieved, a college degree can have a major positive impact on your life. I earned my degree from Youngstown State University and it propelled me to a great career. Go for it. It can do the same for you!” – Robert P., mentor
“Being the first person in my family to attend college brought an entirely new set of expectations and experiences that no one in my family had experienced before. The application process itself was a whole new ballgame, and not one that anyone in my family could necessarily help me with. Given this situation, I was incredibly grateful to find support in outside resources and programs like College Now.
“Having the opportunity to attend college and earn my degree has put me on a path to success that would not have been possible otherwise. I am currently pursuing a dual-degree program and will graduate this coming May with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing and a Bachelor of Arts in the Spanish Language and Culture. College has also given me many other opportunities—and I’ve been blessed to be able to study abroad in Costa Rica, lead various student organizations, build professional experience in healthcare, and so much more!” – Mary C., student
First-generation college students can also be the catalyst for others in their family to pursue a postsecondary education – sometimes even encouraging their parents to return to school and get their degrees.
“Being a first-generation college student gives me an extreme sense of pride. I didn’t know it at the time, but looking back, I set the precedent for my siblings to go to college as well as other members of my family. I showed them that it was possible. Our family now has a generation of educated adults that seemed nearly impossible some years ago.” – Heidi N., mentor
“College not only had a major impact on my life, but it saved my life. Attending college opened up doors I only dreamt about and if I had the chance to go back I would do it all over again and I am! College not only allowed me to be a leading example for the students I work with, but it also encouraged my parents to attend college. #collegerocks #firstgen #collegenowrocks!” – Cierra K., former College Now Scholarship recipient
“As a first-generation college graduate, I can tell you that I am very proud of my accomplishment and my dedication to achieving my goals. My three children are all second-generation college graduates and that gives me great pride in knowing that my decision to complete my degree set higher standards for my children and, hopefully, future generations to come!” – Michelle L., mentor
“I was the youngest of five with a pretty big age difference between siblings, who ranged from the oldest being 15 years, 14 years, 10 years and then seven years older than me. Yes, I was the unplanned ‘oops’ – but have enjoyed being the one who broke the mold. I was the first in my family to pursue a four-year degree. My father immigrated from Czechoslovakia when he was four years old, lost his father very young and only finished eighth grade. My mother graduated high school, but immediately began working as a waitress and married my father at the grand old age of 19.
“When I began to share with my parents that I intended to go onto college, I think they didn’t really take me seriously. After all, they had raised four other children who either enlisted in the military or entered the workforce right from high school; it was a foreign idea for them. No college fund set up, no regular dinner discussions on what I needed to do either academically or otherwise to make sure that I could attend the college of my choice. Nope. Those conversations never happened. During my junior and senior years, I went on campus visits with my friends or with their families. My parents didn’t see the need. But, as I said, I liked being the one to break the mold, so I continued to follow my dreams.
“Certainly, it was a struggle financially without having the support of my parents or role models within my family to follow. I may have missed out on some social activities in high school or during summer breaks, but it was well worth it. I spent my summers working three jobs simultaneously: babysitting, teaching swimming lessons and scooping ice cream. My days started at 7 am and ended after 11 pm. During the school year, I started and managed a babysitting club – parents would call, and I would arrange jobs for my friends. All of that required organization, focus and planning which helped me throughout high school, college and certainly in my professional career.” – Barb S., mentor
If you haven’t been following us on social media already, make sure you follow College Now on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram as we continue to celebrate today’s First-Generation College Celebration.
Hello, October: It’s FAFSA Season
It’s the first week of October – time for the leaves to change colors, the air to get crisper, and for you to start thinking about the FAFSA.
Beginning October 1, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) opens. And while having to fill out another form during the college application process might not sound like fun, the FAFSA is vital to your college career. Regardless of who you are – a high school senior, current college student, or an adult returning to school – anyone who is thinking about enrolling in a postsecondary program for the 2019-2020 academic year needs to fill out the FAFSA.
The FAFSA, along with the actual college application, is the most important form you can fill out and submit during the application process. Why? Because it unlocks financial resources that can help you pay for your education. Not only is it the gateway to federal dollars, colleges use the information on the FAFSA to determine the amount of institutional aid they award as well. It’s also important to complete the FAFSA as early as you can, as financial aid is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis.
Now, you may think you don’t need to complete the FAFSA if you and/or your family make a certain amount of money. But we cannot stress this enough: EVERYONE should complete a FAFSA – regardless of income level. Financial aid may still be available and, as we previously said, colleges use the FAFSA to determine how much institutional aid they may award.
So you know you have to fill out the FAFSA – but how do you do it?
First, you must obtain your FSA ID. The FSA ID is the username and password you use on federal student aid websites such as fafsa.gov and studentloans.gov. You can obtain your FSA ID on the Federal Student Aid website.
Once you have your FSA ID, make an appointment with the College Now advisor in your school or with an advisor in the College Now Resource Center. An advisor will be able to walk you through every step of the process and make sure you are filling out the FAFSA completely and accurately.
Before your appointment, you’ll need to gather the materials you’ll need to fill out the FAFSA. This includes:
- Your Social Security Number
- Your Alien Registration Number (if you are not a U.S. citizen)
- Your federal income tax returns, W-2s, and other records of money earned. (Note: You may be able to transfer your federal tax return information into your FAFSA using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool.)
- Bank statements and records of investments (if applicable)
- Records of untaxed income (if applicable)
- Your FSA ID
Bring the materials listed above to your meeting with a College Now advisor, and you’ll be able to easily fill out the FAFSA and be on your way to receiving financial aid for your postsecondary journey!
There is a wealth of information on the FAFSA web page, but the process can still be challenging. College Now is here to help. Our services are always free.