Hello, October: It’s FAFSA Season

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:

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.

College Now Interns on the Issues: Part 2

College Now Interns on the Issues: Part 2

In our last blog post, we shared the college-going experiences of three College Now summer interns enrolled at three different colleges in the Midwest. Each college student chose their postsecondary institution based on cost, found ways to carefully balance, work, academics and extracurriculars, and expressed frustration with the financial aid process.

As these students begin the second half of their undergraduate experience, they are still optimistic about their futures and the benefit their postsecondary education will have on their career opportunities.

On their student-loan debt: 

Brianna wants to be an athletic trainer for the USA Women’s Track & Field team, which will require graduate education. She currently feels confident in paying for college, completing the FAFSA and paying off her loans. However, Brianna acknowledges the burden of student debt on many of her peers. “There are thousands of horror stories about [students] taking out several loans and drowning in debt,” Brianna said. “However, I was fortune enough to have people in my life teach me about college debt and different options when paying for college. I learned about outside scholarships and grants. College Now Greater Cleveland and Upward Bound connected me with a scholarship database. Upward Bound also walked me through my financial aid award letter explaining each scholarship and each loan, then explaining the loan repayment process.”

Steph would also like to continue to graduate school and become a lawyer. She has worked diligently to avoid loans her freshman and sophomore year, and while she lost her Pell Grant eligibility this past spring, she is committed to graduating from college student loan debt free. She is especially grateful for the support she has received from College Now and the Jimmy Malone Scholarship. She is confident that if she graduates from undergrad without loans, she’ll be able to afford law school.

Rachel is still figuring out her postgraduate plans, so she is not entirely sure how that will affect her ability to pay off her loans. “I’m hoping that I enter a career where I don’t have too much difficulty paying off loans while affording to live on my own, but I am a bit nervous about what will happen,” Rachel said.

On the need for increase postsecondary attainment in Ohio:

These young women understand why postsecondary education is so important for their own economic successes and the future of Ohio.  Steph acknowledges that “the more educated you are, the more opportunities and options you have regarding career choices.”

Brianna referenced Ohio’s skills gap and the growing demanded for skilled employees. “Ohio has a shortage of working-age adults,” she said. “If new jobs require postsecondary education, then college/university graduation rates must increase. However, Ohio is ranked dead last in enrollment growth. I was shocked to learn this! Then I thought, I do not attend a university in Ohio. I am enrolled in a university in Pennsylvania due to receiving more financial aid from that university. Ohio is ranked 45th out of 50 states in college affordability, meaning paying for your education is expensive and an investment.”

On the need for affordable postsecondary options:

Brianna believes that that the government should invest more in college, saying that “postsecondary education is literally an investment. Getting a degree is almost essential when job searching.” This caused Brianna to raise a question: “Why is college so expensive if getting a postsecondary degree is almost necessary? Some ask, shouldn’t college be free? I personally do not feel college should be free. I do, however, believe the cost of education is extremely expensive in America, and tuition should be reduced. College tuition increases each year, while financial aid simultaneously decreases.”

In addition to increasing government aid, Brianna continues, “being educated on college debt is important. Understanding each loan, grant and scholarship offered to you is important. More college readiness programs should be offered teaching students about college debt and providing alternative ways to pay for college other than loans.”

Steph agrees that “college shouldn’t be free, but it should be affordable.” Specifically, she said, “expecting students to pay off whatever amount is owed during the first week of school is ridiculous, and while we’re waiting for scholarship checks to come in, we’re charged for interest? The small fees that we’re required to pay add up.” Steph also questions why colleges continue to increase tuition. “Every year, tuition rises another thousand dollars – but why? Because the school rebuilt apartments on campus and requires all students to pay – even though you’re a commuter? I don’t have a solution to this question, but nothing in life comes free – and if it does, it’s because you have worked hard to get where you are.”

On simplifying college access:

In addition to keeping tuition and fees flat and increasing state and federal support for higher education, Steph recommends changes to current financial aid policy that would recognize the diversity of family circumstances. Steph firmly believes that “parental financial information should not be included during the FAFSA process” or at the very least, “there should be an option that allows you to check ‘yes’ or ‘no’ regarding parental financial support through college. In my case, my parents do not provide any financial support in my life whatsoever, and that’s how it has been since I was 16. The government does not take into consideration that there are different circumstances in every person’s life which can limit their ability to afford college.”

Finally, to further close the talent gap and promote equity, Brianna believes that measures must be taken to “educate our children as early as possible, exposing them to colleges, universities, and trades to make the ‘life after high school’ decision less confusing. Getting students interested in postsecondary education will help them qualify for advanced jobs in the future. Ohio is creating the jobs opportunities, and now Ohio must produce more college and university graduates.”

College Now was fortunate to have these bright, hardworking and ambitious young women as part of the team this summer. We are grateful that they were willing to share their personal stories.


College Now Interns on the Issues: Part 1

The next two blog posts veer away from state and federal policy issues that we have been addressing in recent articles and instead focuses on the students that these policies impact. The three interns referenced in this (names changed for privacy) come from different socioeconomic statuses, attended different high schools and are currently enrolled in three different colleges. Despite these differences, their stories have commonalities that unify their college-going experiences and their paths that brought them to College Now this summer.

College Now Interns on the Issues: Part 1

Each summer College Now is privileged to hire interns to help the organization with programing, development and operations. To be an intern at College Now, students must be in a degree-seeking program and have an interest in helping students obtain postsecondary credentials. The students who apply to intern at College Now are frequently attracted to the opportunity due to their own frustrations with the college-going process and a desire to help students navigate their paths to and through college. College Now interns are often former recipients of College Now services and current recipients of a College Now scholarship.

On the college selection process:

Three years ago, Brianna, now a rising junior, had her heart set on Xavier University in Cincinnati. However, upon seeing her award letter, she knew that making the in-state private school work for her family financially would be nearly impossible. Brianna was (understandably) averse to taking out federal student loans and, while she planned to apply for scholarships, she knew that depending on them to make ends meet would be equally “risky.” Instead, Brianna accepted enrollment at her second-choice institution, Mercyhurst College in Pennsylvania.

Steph’s first choice was Capital University in Columbus. Steph “wanted to get away from home and have that ‘college experience.’” At the advice of her counselor, she also applied to Baldwin Wallace “since it was like Capital but without the two-hour drive.” After weighing all her options, Steph decided to attend Baldwin Wallace and commute from home: “It would be $12,000 cheaper, and I was lucky enough to have been awarded scholarships to cover fees.”

For Rachel, college costs were a leading factor in her college decision. If cost were no issue at all, she “would probably have considered a lot more out-of-state options and would have seriously considered applying to programs I wanted within those schools.” While she did apply to two out-of-state schools, and was accepted to both, she knew she “could not seriously consider them as options unless granted a significant amount of scholarship money.” Rachel is currently a junior at Ohio State University.

On the financial aid process:

Steph has been chosen for verification every year she completed the FAFSA so “has had to send in additional paperwork, which is annoying.” Just this past year, she lost her Pell-eligibility, and will need to take out a loan or apply for more scholarships for her junior and senior year.

For Brianna, “the FAFSA was smooth sailing” for her freshman and sophomore year of college. She hit a bump in the road entering her junior year when she had to complete verification paperwork. “The process was not hard, just annoying. Completing the verification paperwork was re-submitting documents. I basically had to complete the FAFSA twice (and who wants to do that?!). But it was necessary in order to continue receiving the Ohio College Opportunity Grant and the Pell Grant along with two loans,” Brianna said.

On balancing academics, work, and life:

Now in college, Brianna “learned that being an adult is expensive . . . Trying to balance school and sleep is difficult enough – trying to find time to work to afford expenses on top of that is even harder.” Brianna is eligible for Federal Work Study and works on campus for a professor in her department. This has the added benefit of helping Brianna build a professionally relevant relationship and limits the number of hours she can work so she can focus on her academics.

Steph learned the importance of balance the hard way. “During my first year, I was working full-time while also attending school full-time, and it made a major impact on my grades because I was not dedicating my time to what really mattered,” Steph said. Eventually Steph “cut down to working 30 hours per week during the spring semester and had all As.” Steph learned that “ultimately, it all comes down to prioritizing and being able to take a step back from whatever is hurting your academic success. What I realized is that long-term outweighs the short-term. It’s great to be getting $600 paychecks while in school but it’s not so great when you’re receiving Cs and low-Bs when you know you could be getting As.”

This past year, Rachel worked a part time job while she was in school. Rachel found it “exhausting at times to come home from work and immediately have to start studying or writing a paper.” However, it was necessary as she “would not be able to afford to participate in extracurriculars otherwise.” Rachel “doesn’t think that working part time necessarily hurt my academic success, but it did force me to prioritize my time and miss out on some things I wish I could have done.”

In our next post, we share these women’s outlook for the future, their concerns about student loan repayment, and the federal and state policies they would change if given the opportunity.

Six Questions You Might Have about Ohio’s Postsecondary Attainment Goal

Six Questions You Might Have about Ohio’s Postsecondary Attainment Goal

To increase postsecondary attainment in Ohio, a committee of education leaders across the state partnered with the Ohio Department of Education to set a statewide postsecondary attainment goal. In May 2016, the Ohio Department of Higher Education announced a goal of having 65% of adults hold a postsecondary degree (two or four year), credential or certificate by 2025. In 2018, Governor John Kasich codified this goal into law as part of the state’s annual budget. The law mandates that the chancellor of the Ohio Department of Higher Education report annually on the State’s progress toward the 65% goal. 

This blog answers six of common questions regarding the state’s attainment goal.   

Why did Ohio set an attainment goal? 

The attainment goal was set to reduce a growing gap between the existing skills of Ohio’s residents and the changing demands of employers. Ohio’s economy has been shifting for decades from one that was highly industrial to one that is more service-based. In the first decade of the 21st century, nearly 40% of manufacturing jobs were lost. This decline was exacerbated by the recession, when 166,000 manufacturing jobs were lost.  

Ohio’s shifting economy reflects national trends. The nation lost 8 million jobs during the recession (2007-2010), the majority of which required limited to no education beyond a high school diploma in industries like manufacturing or construction. Notably, since the recovery began in 2010, 11.5 million of the 11.6 million jobs created have required some postsecondary education (2010-2015). In other words, 99% of the jobs created since the recession require some education beyond a high school diploma.  

If Ohio wants to continue to make economic gains, and promote the well-being of its citizenry, more individuals must continue their education and develop the skills needed for employment in a 21st century economy. 

Why did Ohio set 65% as its goal? 

The goal serves as a bold estimate of where the economy is moving and what skills Ohioans needs for full-time employment. Further, individuals with education beyond a high school degree have a higher earnings potential, are less likely to be unemployed and are more likely to be civically engaged. 

When the 65% goal was announced in 2016, 43% of working age Ohioans held a postsecondary certificate or above while 56% of in-demand jobs at the time required some education beyond a high school diploma. Further, the highly-respected Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce (Georgetown CEW), estimated that by 2020, 64% of jobs in Ohio would require some education beyond a high school diploma.  

What does the attainment goal measure? 

The attainment goal measures working-aged adults ages 25-64 that hold a degree, certificate or other postsecondary workforce credential of value in the workplace by 2025.  

The goal is not disaggregated based on race and ethnicity and it does not includes subgroup goals. However, when we look at the postsecondary attainment rates by race and ethnicity in Ohio, it is obvious that there are major disparities that need to be addressed if we are to substantially increase postsecondary attainment.  Notably, 67% of Asian Americans have postsecondary education, as do 39% of Caucasians, 25% of African Americans and 24% of Hispanics. College enrollment among Ohio residents when disaggregated by race/ethnicity closely aligns with these attainment rates.  

Policymakers and practitioners must closely monitor these disparities and provide resources to ensure that there is equitable support for populations that have low-postsecondary attainment rates.  

Do other states have attainment goals?  

Statewide postsecondary attainment goals date back to the late 1990’s. In a 2005 Jobs for the Future report, 24 states were listed as having at least one goal related to college enrollment, retention or graduation. 

In 2009, President Barack Obama set a national postsecondary attainment goal of 60% of 25-34 year olds earning an associates or bachelor’s degree by the year 2020. That same year, the Lumina Foundation set a postsecondary attainment goal for 60% of 25-64 year olds earning a high-quality certificate, associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree by 2025. Since, more than 30 states have set an attainment goal. 

Is Ohio on track to meet its goal? 

At the time of the announcement, the postsecondary attainment rate in Ohio was 43%. In 2018, the postsecondary attainment rate is 44%.  The state is not on track to reach its 65% goal. 

Ohio has already implemented policies to promote college going and completion initiatives across the state. Ohio has also eased the process of transferring from one college to another, expanded College Credit Plus so that more students are able to graduate from high school with some college credit and is helping adult learners return to higher education. 

The state is working in partnership with a committee comprised of Ohio’s major education groups including Philanthropy Ohio, the Inter-University Council, and the Ohio Association of Community Colleges; collective impact conveners like the Higher Education Compact; and college access groups like College Now Greater Cleveland to help drive these efforts.  

If Ohio wants to reach its 65% goal, more intensive policy and grassroots efforts are needed. Here is a link to a one-pager that outlines additional strategies needed to reach the 65% goal.  

What happens if Ohio misses the 65% attainment goal?  

Nothing. This goal is ambitious (requiring an additional 1.7 million degrees!) and will be difficult to reach. However, we must take it seriously if we want to create strong communities with jobs that can support a middle class lifestyle.

Without Advisor Carolyn Beeler, College Now Alum Greg Moore Says He Wouldn’t Have Gone to College

Without Advisor Carolyn Beeler, College Now Alum Greg Moore Says He Wouldn’t Have Gone to College

Greg Moore was in a panic. It was the spring of his senior year at Glenville High School, and his friends had all started to receive their college acceptance letters. Greg didn’t understand – weren’t you supposed to apply to college after you graduated from high school? When did all his classmates fill out applications?

“Remember all those meetings with college recruiters and the guidance counselors that you blew off?” Greg’s friends reminded him. “That’s what those meetings were for.”

As the first in his family to approach high school graduation and even begin to think about college, Greg hadn’t understood the college application and selection process. And now, he was paying for it. He rushed to his counselor’s office, who was too busy to help him. Desperate, Greg turned to the only available person in the office, a Cleveland Scholarship Programs advisor in her second year on the job named Carolyn Beeler.

Carolyn listened to Greg and reviewed his situation. Honestly, she told him, she wasn’t quite sure what could be done at this point, but she was going to try. She knew the Associate Director of Admissions at Ohio Wesleyan University, so she gave him a call. Greg listened to their conversation, as Carolyn told him that she was sitting with a great student who had made a mistake and could he please just take a look at him? When Carolyn got off the phone, she told Greg that, if he could get down to Ohio Wesleyan that weekend to meet with the Associate Director of Admissions, he had a shot at acceptance. Greg agreed. Before he left, he asked, “Why did you say all that about me? You don’t even know me.”

“Because,” Carolyn replied, “if you don’t speak up for yourself, or find someone to speak up for you, who will?”

That weekend, Greg got on a bus and travelled to Ohio Wesleyan University. “I can do this,” he thought. “I’m going to do it.” Upon his return to Cleveland, Greg and Carolyn sat down and filled out his application. In June, Greg was accepted into Ohio Wesleyan. Carolyn helped him fill out his financial aid paperwork, and he was off.

“The rest,” Greg says, “is history.”

It was at Ohio Wesleyan that Greg discovered his love of journalism. As a student, he created his own paper on campus, and graduated in 1976 with his Bachelor’s degree in journalism and political science. He went to work for the Journal Herald in Dayton for years, followed by a six-year tenure at the Cleveland Plain Dealer, where he served as a reporter and editor. In 1986, Greg went to work for the Boston Globe, where he spent 16 years; he became managing editor of the newspaper in 1994. In 2002, Greg left the Globe and assumed the role of Editor in Chief at the Denver Post, a position he held for 14 years. During that time, Greg led the Denver Post to four consecutive Pulitzer Prizes, a feat, he notes, only The New York Times has also accomplished.

Throughout his career, Greg frequently thought back to Carolyn Beeler, the advisor who was so responsible for his postsecondary journey. He tried to find her, but she had left College Now and he couldn’t find where she was now working. One day, though, fate intervened for the second time in the pair’s relationship.

Greg was a member of Ohio Wesleyan’s Board of Trustees, and an Ohio Wesleyan admissions officer approached him at a meeting on campus one day. She had been in Northeast Ohio for a college fair, she said, and a woman noticed her Ohio Wesleyan pin and asked her if she knew of one of her former students, Greg Moore. The woman, it turned out, was Carolyn Beeler, now a counselor in the Beachwood schools.

Greg and Carolyn were reunited in the 2000s, and Carolyn and her husband were in the audience when Greg was inducted into the Ohio Foundation of Independent College’s Hall of Excellence in 2015. Greg and Carolyn had the opportunity to connect again in June of this year when Greg returned to Cleveland for College Now’s annual Invest in Success event.

Celebrating the organization’s 50th anniversary, Invest in Success this year honored the four funders that have bene supporting College Now from its inception in 1967 – the Cleveland Foundation, the George Gund Foundation, the John Huntington Fund for Education and the Martha Holden Jennings Foundation. Greg served at the event’s featured speaker and spoke to the impact that College Now had on his life and continues to have on the lives of students throughout Greater Cleveland.

As part of Greg’s visit to Cleveland, he also returned to Glenville High School for a lunch with College Now AmeriCorps members. During the lunch, Greg shared his story with the AmeriCorps members present and discussed with them the importance of the work they have been throughout their past year of service. AmeriCorps members also had the opportunity to ask Greg questions about his career and educational journey, as well as share information about their own career ambitions.

Greg Moore is just one example of the individuals who have been helped by College Now throughout our first 50 years of service to the Greater Cleveland, and we are beyond grateful for his support of College Now at Invest in Success in June.

To read more about Greg and College Now, check out this article from Cleveland.com. You can watch Greg’s speech from Invest in Success on our YouTube channel, and see more pictures from the event on our Facebook.

The Price of a College Degree

The Price of a College Degree

Not all states are created equal when it comes to the value of a college degree and the burden of student loan debt. According to a report published by WalletHub in 2017 that looked at 10 factors related to student loan debt as well as grant and work opportunities, Ohio ranks first in the nation when it comes to the burden of student loan debt.

Ohio scored 64.25 out of 100. In comparison, Pennsylvania scored 60.05 (rank 3), Michigan scored 60.02 (rank 7) and Indiana scored 56.73 (rank 10). The heaviest weighted factors included average student debt, the proportion of student debt as share of income, and the share of student borrowers who are 50 and older. The calculation also factored in grants and student work opportunities including unemployment rates of those age 25 to 34, availability of student jobs and availability of paid internships.

This is alarming – but not surprising. According to a study by Vanderbilt University and the University of Pennsylvania, Ohio ranks 45th in the nation on key affordability metrics. According to The Institute for College Access and Success, 64 percent of graduates in the class of 2016 borrowed to pay for their undergraduate degree. Those graduates that borrowed, on average, took out $30,391 in loans to afford a four-year degree. This ranks Ohio 14th in the nation in average student-loan debt load and 9th in the nation in the percent with debt.

College costs in Ohio are higher than national averages. For many years, Ohio’s public institutions compensated for low state support by increasing tuition. From 1996 to 2006, tuition at Ohio’s public universities rose an average of nine percent a year. Now, due to state passed tuition freezes, these increases have moderated. Tuition at four-year institutions in Ohio is now seven percent higher the national average while tuition at two-year institution in Ohio is four percent higher than the national average.

Is it worth it? This may lead students and families to ask: is the debt worth the degree? The short answer is yes. Individuals with an associate degree earn on average $250,000 more over their lifetime than those with just a high school diploma while individuals with a bachelor’s degree earn $660,000 more over their life time than those with just a high school diploma. Further, individual with college degrees also see greater health benefits, are more likely to be civically engaged and less likely to be unemployed.

A more pressing concern is relates to students who started school and took out debt but didn’t earn a degree – which is approximately one in four Ohioans. These individuals can find themselves unable to benefit from the financial gains associated with a college degree and in a very precarious financial position. They may also find themselves dealing with state-hired debt collector.

This is one of the many reasons that it’s important to get good guidance when choosing a postsecondary program. If you are trying to identify program is the right fit for you, call the College Now Resource Center to schedule an appointment for a one on one consultation.

Do you have concerns related to college cost or facing challenges paying off your student loans? We want to hear your story. Complete this form and tell us your story.

To Learn More about Debt Collection Practices in Ohio: Ohio Attorney General’s Student Loan Debt Advisory Group.

Spring 2018 Updates to the Public Student Loan Forgiveness Program

Spring 2018 Updates to the Public Student Loan Forgiveness Program

The year 2017 was a milestone year for the Federal Public Student Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program: the first students who signed up for the federal student loan repayment option were eligible to have their loans discharged.

PSLF is a loan repayment option that aims to reduce the burden of student loan debt for individuals who work in public service. The PSLF program was included in the College Cost Reduction and Access Act of 2007, a piece of federal legislation signed into law by President George W. Bush that increased the Pell Grant, created income-based loan repayment options and cut interest rates on federal student loans.

The repayment option is rooted in the theory that individuals may avoid lower-paying public service jobs and instead choose more lucrative private sector opportunities to pay off their student loans. To incentivize students to choose public sector jobs (police, social work, legal aid, etc.), PSLF provides favorable terms: after 120 on-time monthly student loan payments, qualified employees are able to discharge their remaining debt.

Unfortunately, of the 7,500 students who believed they had qualified to have their debt discharged as of January 2018, only 1,000 actually qualified. This is partially because, according to the U.S. Department of Education, there were a “limited availability of income-based repayment plans in the early years of the program.” It is also because of the complexity of the program. Many students have filed complaints that they were given misinformation from their loan servicers, while others faced program technicalities that disqualified some of their payments.

To address this, U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) introduced an amendment that was included in the FY18 federal spending bill that would expand the PSLF program to those who qualify for loan repayment but were somehow placed in the wrong federal repayment program.

To see if you qualify for payment from the $350 million fund, individuals must apply for consideration through the U.S. Department of Education. To learn more, visit the U.S. Department of Education’s website and call the College Now Resource Center to schedule an appointment for a one-on-one consultation. There are staff on-hand to help you navigate this process.

Want to learn more about qualifying for Public Student Loan Forgiveness?

Here’s what you need to qualify for public service loan forgiveness

Prepare Wisely for Public Service Loan Forgiveness

Before You Apply for Public Service Loan Forgiveness, Check out These 4 Surprising Requirements

This blog post is also published on the Higher Education Compact of Greater Cleveland’s blog.

Meet College Now and Harvard Alumni Tonisha Calbert and Kimberly Vargas

Meet College Now and Harvard Alumni Tonisha Calbert and Kimberly Vargas

Many students dream of attending a prestigious institution such as Harvard University. However, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Tonisha Calbert and Kimberly Vargas became the first two students from the Cleveland Metropolitan School District to attend Harvard since 1989 – and both women are College Now (formerly the Cleveland Scholarship Program) alumni, as well! Read on to learn how College Now helped these two attend their dream school.

Growing up in East Cleveland with her mother and five younger siblings, Tonisha tended to excel in school.  She was vice president of her class, a member of the National Honor Society, and a producer and reader of the homeroom announcement broadcasts at Jane Addams High School.  However, when it came time to think about college, Tonisha did not have the money to even apply.

“The fee [to apply] was only $60,” she said. “[College Now] paid it as well as the fees for the other schools I applied to.”

With a personal essay focusing on overcoming her shyness attached, Tonisha’s application was sent off, impressing admissions officials at Harvard and resulting in her acceptance to the school and a sizeable financial aid package.  However, there was still a gap Tonisha had to meet. With College Now’s help, Tonisha earned $18,000 in additional scholarships, and was able to attend Harvard in the fall of 1998.  After graduating in 2002 with her BA in government with a focus on ancient political philosophy, Tonisha went on to Columbia University’s law school, earning her JD in 2007.  She worked as a corporate associate for Willkie Farr & Gallagher in New York City before returning to Ohio to earn her MA from Ohio State University in 2013.  Currently, Tonisha is a PhD candidate in the Department of English at Ohio State.

Similar to Tonisha, Kimberly Vargas excelled in school while her family struggled to make ends meet with welfare and food stamps.  On track to graduate as salutatorian from James Ford Rhodes High School, Kimberly’s guidance counselor pushed her to apply to Harvard.  With the help of College Now, Kimberly was able to pay for the pricey entrance exams and application fees required to submit a competitive application.  Even after she got her acceptance letter, however, Kimberly still viewed attending Harvard as an impossible dream.  With a $40,000 per year price tag, “I just assumed I wasn’t going to Harvard,” she said.  Winning a full scholarship, however, changed all that.  In 2006, Kimberly graduated from Harvard with a degree in psychology.  Realizing that she wanted to return to Cleveland and her family, Kimberly then moved back home where she earned her master’s degree from Cleveland State University and went on to work as a school psychologist for the Cleveland Metropolitan School District.

Since Tonisha and Kimberly, a number of College Now scholars have applied to and attended Harvard University (including David Boone, a 2012 graduate of MC2STEM in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District) and other prestigious schools throughout the country. Through programs such as the Cleveland Foundation College Now Scholars Program, more students are applying to and receiving acceptances to more elite institutions than ever before, which you can read more about here.

Meet Clinton Bristow Jr.: East Tech Grad, College Now Alum, Former President of the Chicago Board of Education

Meet Clinton Bristow: East Tech Grad, College Now Alum, Former President of the Chicago Board of Education

College Now Greater Cleveland supports students in all their postsecondary goals, but when students decide to channel their talents back into education, it can be a special moment – and that’s exactly what alum Clinton Bristow Jr. did.

Clinton was born in Montgomery, Alabama in 1949, but shortly after moved to Cleveland with his family.  There, the Bristow family struggled to make ends meet, living in public housing and knowing, despite Clinton’s intelligence, that they could never afford to send him to college.  That’s where College Now, then the Cleveland Scholarship Program, came in.  Recognizing the immense potential in the East Tech student, College Now provided Clinton with the scholarships and other funds he needed to apply to and attend college.  In 1967, Clinton graduated from East Tech with a variety of accolades, including the titles of valedictorian, class president and football letterman, as well as an acceptance to Northwestern University.  In 1971, Clinton graduated from Northwestern with a Bachelor of Arts degree and went on to receive his J.D. in 1974 and Ph.D. in education administration and public administration in 1977, both, also from Northwestern.  From there, he went on to Governors State University, where he earned his MBA in 1984.  At this point, Clinton set his sights on improving education for others.

That’s why, in 1990, Clinton accepted the position of President of the Chicago Board of Education.  With this position came the responsibility of managing the futures of 410,000 kids, 40,000 teachers, 601 “mini” school boards and a $2.4 billion budget.  He held this position for five years before becoming president of Alcorn State University, an HBCU in Mississippi.  As president of the university, Clinton headed initiatives that resulted in a doubling of the percentage of Alcorn students attending graduate and professional schools, an improving of retention and an enhancing of research in the life sciences.  An inspiring individual, Clinton’s death in 2006 was felt throughout the higher education community.

Meet College Now Alum José Feliciano

College Now, formerly Cleveland Scholarship Programs, has a long list of notable alums, including José Feliciano. Part of College Now from its very early history, José went on to become well-known in both the legal and Greater Cleveland communities.

Born in Yauco, Puerto Rico, José moved to Cleveland with his family in 1952 at the age of two. However, he struggled to learn English, leading him to be labeled as “Educable Mentally Retarded” by his first grade teacher. After transferring to St. Patrick’s school at age six, José quickly picked up the language and began to excel. After graduating from Cathedral Latin High School in 1968, a College Now scholarship helped José attend John Carroll University, where he earned his BA in 1972. From there, José matriculated to the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law, where he received his JD in 1975.  He then began his law career, working as a legal services lawyer for Cleveland Aid Society and later as a Cuyahoga County Public Defender.

In 1980, Cleveland Mayor George Voinovich appointed José Chief Prosecuting Attorney for the city of Cleveland, making him the first Hispanic public official in the history of Cleveland. José served as Chief Prosecuting Attorney until 1984 when he earned his MBA from Cleveland State University. In that year, he was appointed to a White House Fellowship by President Ronald Reagan. After his year-long fellowship ended, José joined the law firm of BakerHostetler, where he was a partner and active trial lawyer until his retirement in 2017.

José’s accomplishments extend far beyond the legal profession, however. He has served as a Board Member for a number of Greater Cleveland non-profit organizations, including the Cleveland Bar Association, United Way, Federation for Community Planning, Greater Cleveland Roundtable, Red Cross, Cuyahoga County Catholic Social Service, Legal Aid Society, Cuyahoga Community College Advisory Board, Center for Human Services, United Negro College Advisory Board, Hough Area Development Corporation/Cleveland Midtown Development Corporation, Hispanic Community Project, Hispanic Community Forum, Neighborhood Housing Services and Spanish-American Committee and General Counsel.

José has also received numerous awards, being named one of the U.S. Jaycees “Ten Outstanding Young Men in America” in 1985, receiving the Federal Bar Association’s Boots Fisher Civic Achievement Award in 2000, the Hispanic Business Association’s Legacy Award in 2008 and the Benchmark Litigation “Litigation Star” in 2014, among others. In 2010, he was inducted into the Cleveland State University Nance College of Business Hall of Fame and in 2012, he was inducted into the Cleveland International Hall of Fame. José also has a passion for fostering growth of the Hispanic community in Cleveland, leading him to found the Hispanic Roundtable, a nonprofit organization aimed to empower the Hispanic community in all areas of life.

College Now is proud to call José an alum of the program. Keep reading our blog to learn more about the impressive individuals who have received College Now scholarships throughout our history.

Twin College Now Alumni Find Success Writing for Screen and Stage

Twin College Now Alumni Find Success Writing for Screen and Stage

No, you’re not seeing double! Twins Mark and Steve O’Donnell are both College Now Greater Cleveland (formerly Cleveland Scholarship Programs) alumni, and they found success as nationally recognized writers.

Mark and Steve, 1972 graduates of John Marshall High School, credit College Now advisor Carolyn Beeler with helping them get their start. With Carolyn’s help, the twins gained acceptance to Harvard University, where they found success as writers for Harvard’s renowned satire publication The Harvard Lampoon. After graduating from Harvard in 1976, Mark and Steve embarked on slightly different journeys to becoming renowned for their respective works.

After starting his career writing quips for cards at American Greetings, Steve relocated to New York, applying for positions as a writer for TV shows. In 1982, he was hired as a writer for David Letterman, eventually achieving the position of head writer for 158 episodes of Late Night with David Letterman. During his time as head writer, Steve developed the iconic “Top Ten List,” a long running, well-received segment of the show. After leaving Late Night in 1995, Steve went on to write for The Dana Carvey Show, The Simpsons, Seinfeld, The Chris Rock Show and more, before being hired as head writer for Jimmy Kimmel Live! in 2003. After his departure from Jimmy Kimmel in 2008, he wrote for The Bonnie Hunt Show and Norm Macdonald Live. His sharp wit and excellence as a writer has not gone unnoticed, leading to Steve receiving four Primetime Emmys and 20 nominations. Today, he resides in Los Angeles, continuing to write for TV.

Mark found success in humorous writing, as well. After his graduation from Harvard, he went on to publish stories, essays and poems in Ploughshares, The New Republic, The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, Rolling Stone, Spy and The New York Times, as well as books Let Nothing You Dismay (1998), Getting Over Homer (1996), Vertigo Park and Other Tall Tales (1993), and Elementary Education (1985). Most notable, however, is his work in theater. His plays include “That’s It, Folks!,” “Fables for Friends,” “The Nice and the Nasty,” “Strangers on Earth,” “Vertigo Park,” and the musical “Tots in Tinseltown.” In 2002, he and collaborator Thomas Meehan wrote the book for the Broadway musical “Hairspray,” which earned them the 2003 Tony Award for Best Book of a Musical. Mark and Thomas also worked on the musical adaptation for the show “Cry-Baby,” earning them a 2008 Tony nomination for the same category. In 2012, Mark passed away at his home in Manhattan. He was 58.

Meet Our Alumni: Toccara Montgomery, A College Now Alum of Olympic Proportions

Meet Our Alumni: Toccara Montgomery, A College Now Alum of Olympic Proportions

Since 1967, College Now has awarded $71 million in scholarships to students, and those scholarship recipients have gone on to achieve great things. As we celebrate College Now’s 50th Anniversary, we want to share some of those alumni stories with you. As the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics get underway, let’s look back at the story of our own Olympian, wrestler Toccara Montgomery. Although her athletic prowess helped advance her postsecondary studies, it was the extra financial help from College Now that closed Toccara’s funding gap and made matriculation to college possible.

Born in 1982, Toccara Montgomery grew up on the east side of Cleveland.  Her path to the Olympics began to take shape after the conviction of her father for a double homicide in 1998. Toccara, a teenager who had a close relationship with her father, struggled to cope with the conviction.

“She buried herself more and more,” her mother, Tara, told Sports Illustrated in 2002. “She wasn’t hurting in school, wasn’t hurting socially, but she was hurting inside.  She needed to just let it out.”

The way to let it out for Toccara, it turned out, was wrestling.  As a sophomore at East Tech High School, Montgomery happened to one day hear an announcement that the wrestling team was looking for new students to join. Curious, Toccara made her way to the first practice, one of only five girls to do so.  Immediately, Coach Kip Flanik recognized her talent, and pushed her to hone her abilities.

By early 1999, Toccara had won a silver medal at the girls’ nationals in Michigan. With the help of Coach Flanik, who assisted with her training costs and travel, Toccara went on to win her first national open title in 2000 as a senior at East Tech. It was at this same time that Toccara began to realize that wrestling could lead to college. However, while she knew attending college was now possible with athletic scholarships, she recognized there would still be additional costs, and turned to College Now – then the Cleveland Scholarship Programs – for help.

“[College Now] helped a lot,” she told Cleveland Magazine in 2004.  “They helped me with books and spending money.”

With the help of her College Now advisor, Toccara applied for additional scholarships and was awarded an additional $1,000 per year for four years. With those funds making up her remaining balance, Toccara’s dream of attending college became a reality.

In 2001, Toccara began pursuing a degree in elementary education at University of the Cumberlands, where she wrestled for the Cumberland Patriots wrestling club. That same year, she joined the U.S. World Wrestling Team and became the first American to be named Women’s Wrestler of the Year by USA Wrestling. She achieved four U.S. junior and senior national titles between 2001 and 2004, obtained two Pan American Championship trophies in 2002 and 2003, won two silver medals at the 2001 and 2003 World Championships and took home a gold medal at the 2003 Pan American Games.

Continuing her domination in women’s wrestling, Toccara made the U.S. Women’s Wrestling Olympic Team in 2004, the first year that women’s wrestling was represented at the Games. Toccara placed seventh overall.

After the Olympics, Toccara returned to Cumberlands to complete her degree. She graduated in 2006 with her Bachelor’s degree in education. According to the Associated Wrestling Press, after her graduation, Toccara joined the coaching staff at the University of the Cumberlands, where she helped shape the program into one of national recognition.

In 2009, Toccara earned her master’s degree in instructional leadership from Cumberlands and accepted a position as head coach of the wrestling team at Lindenwood University.  In 2017, Toccara announced in a Facebook post that she would be stepping away from wrestling, focusing instead on teaching kindergarten.

While her wrestling career has been illustrious and garnered her worldwide recognition, Toccara’s academic success should not be ignored. Prior to the 2004 Olympics, The New York Times published a profile on Toccara, and spoke to Coach Flanik, her high school wrestling coach.

“I want to see Toccara with a gold medal, but I will be more proud to see her be the first graduate from college in her family,” Flanik is quoted as saying in the piece by Thomas George. “If she goes to the Olympics and wins it all or if she goes and does nothing, she still has so much more to offer.”

Toccara is just one of the outstanding alumni who have received College Now scholarships and services. Continue to visit our blog in the coming months to read more about some of the unique and inspiring individuals who have come through our programs over the last 50 years.