Examining the Need for Wraparound Services 

Examining the Need for Wraparound Services

The old adage claims that it takes a village to raise a child. At College Now, we also believe that it takes a village to educate a child, and that village includes people as well as wraparound services that remove obstacles to student success.

The students with whom we work at College Now are often saddled with a number of barriers to success, stemming from family, health and/or economic challenges. Facing any number of these obstacles makes academic success a challenge, as students may find themselves sidetracked during their studies, unable to find the time to meet all their responsibilities or they might be unable to physically make it to school at all. Providing wraparound services for students at their school buildings provides a higher level of support that helps them succeed academically and personally.

Wraparound services can include anything from health and wellness care to mental health services, parent and family programs to legal and economic supports. By offering these services in school buildings, challenges to accessing such services, like physical distance, are eliminated. Wraparound services bridge gaps between parents and schools, creating a stronger relationship between families and their children’s education, which is critical to student success.

The Cleveland Metropolitan School District partnered with United Way of Greater Cleveland in 2013 to identify Investment schools within the district, designating a Lead Agency to coordinate wraparound services within each school. These Investment schools would create a framework for providing direct and comprehensive services to address the needs of students, families and community members. College Now was chosen to be the Lead Agency tasked with implementing robust wraparound services in John Adams High School. Since then, through the work of College Now’s Wraparound Site Coordinator, we have strengthened existing programs and developed strategies for new programming to meet the academic, physical, social and emotional needs of those at John Adams and in the community.  John Adams offers enrichment programs for students after school and during the summer; guidance to parents about staying involved in their students’ academic lives; adult education and career support; medical, dental, mental health and social services; early childhood support; and community and economic development services.

At John Adams, the overarching goal of the wraparound services offered is to ensure that students complete high school with a plan for their postsecondary education and career choices. The strategy is focused by four core principles: comprehensiveness, coordination, coherence and commitment. This means that staff at John Adams aim to respond as comprehensively as possible to the needs of students and parents; coordinate the involvement of all stakeholders; ensure that supports and services are coherent and aligned to the instructional program at John Adams; and commit to these wraparound strategies as long-term and not just a one-off program or project. You can read more about John Adams’ wraparound strategies and their goals on the school’s website.

As College Now has seen at John Adams High School, wraparound services are an important part of creating a supportive academic environment. When students are struggling for any reason, be they sick, hungry or faced with legal concerns, they are less likely to put their focus into their schoolwork. When parents and families are unsure how to interact with school administrators and teachers, their concerns are left unaddressed and issues may not be resolved. Implementing wraparound strategies in high schools provides the supports necessary for academic and personal success and also demonstrates the commitment a school and organization has to students, families and the broader community.

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Getting Students on a Postsecondary Path Must Start Early!

Getting Students on a Postsecondary Path Must Start Early!

Reaching students early in the college-going process has always been a priority for College Now. However, in recent years, College Now has strengthened its early awareness work in an effort to reach students earlier than ever and begin the discussion about their secondary and postsecondary goals – often reaching students as early as eighth grade.

Eighth grade?! But why do students need to be thinking about college so early?

Well, we’re not asking students to make major life decisions or fill out their college applications starting in eighth grade. What we mean by early awareness is that we want students to start thinking about their futures from an early age. The foundation for postsecondary success must be laid early, giving students a game plan and outline for their high school years.

Working with students in eighth grade, before they have entered high school, gives advisors and students a chance to discuss the often-challenging and stressful transition between middle and high school. According to the National Education Association, “ninth grade course failure and retention are strong predictors of dropping out of high school,” meaning that helping students successfully transition from middle to high school is imperative to helping them complete their high school programs. Reaching students early helps them navigate this tricky point in their schooling, and start high school on the path to success and graduation.

College Now has instituted a summer bridge academy called “Rebel Up” at John Adams High School to work on this exact issue, meeting with a cohort of eighth grade students during the summer before they begin their freshman year of high school. During this time, advisors help the students get acquainted with their new high school and discuss high school expectations. The 22 students in the initial Rebel Up cohort who continued their high school educations at John Adams showed a 90 percent attendance rate in 2016 – a very promising statistic for these ninth graders, as ninth grade attendance has been shown to be a strong indicator of high school graduation, and can also better predict if a student will fail a course than their test scores!

Even once they transition to high school, many students do not even begin to think about their plans for after high school until they are upperclassmen, which is too late. This can pose a number of problems. First, students may have struggled academically early in high school – even up until they started to think about college – leaving them with a low GPA and, possibly, insufficient classes to meet the requirements of their postsecondary programs of choice. Additionally, students may not have taken the necessary standardized tests to apply to their preferred schools. Even if they have taken the necessary tests (the ACT and/or SAT), a lack of focus during their early high school years may mean that students haven’t prepped for the test, or haven’t given themselves enough time to take it more than once; students may be stuck with lower scores than they would like or need, without the opportunity for improvement.

Additionally, when students do not consider their postsecondary options until late in high school, they miss out on the opportunity to pursue a high school curriculum that sets them up for success in a particular field. Identifying possible programs or areas of interest early on enables students to shape a high school pathway that can lead to the successful transition into postsecondary studies

College Now works with students on career pathway maps, helping them focus as eighth, ninth and tenth graders on their skills and interests, and where those may be needed in the workforce. With workforce needs changing, we help students identify career fields that will have a growing need for workers, ensuring that their postsecondary choice will fit into the current economy. This saves students time and money in their postsecondary studies, as they leave high school with a guided pathway and vision as to what they need to do to complete their higher education.

If you are an early high school student, the parent of a student or a community member who works with younger high school students, take time to think about life after high school. Although it may seem early, the sooner you start discussing their plans, the better.

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The Importance of the Pell Grant to Educational Attainment

The Importance of the Pell Grant to Educational Attainment

At College Now, we say it all the time: educational attainment is one of the most critical issues facing us as a community. In its 2005 report Altered States: A Perspective on 75 Years of State Income Growth, the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland found that, over time, two levers that are directly correlated to regional economic health are the number of patents and the number of degrees in a particular region. It is no surprise, then, why Ohio struggles economically when you consider that it ranks 38th in the nation in educational attainment. The Ohio Department of Higher Education estimates that 64 percent of Ohio’s jobs will require a postsecondary credential or degree by 2020, and with only 37 percent of Ohio adults holding an associate’s degree or higher, it is easy to see that we have a lot of ground to cover in order to meet the future demand for skilled workers.

A major obstacle preventing more Ohioans from pursuing higher education is the cost. A 2016 study by the Penn Graduate School of Education and Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College found that Ohio is the 45th least affordable state in which to go to college. Yes, you read that right. There are only five states in the entire country where postsecondary education is a more expensive undertaking than it is in Ohio. This is due, in large part, to many years of decreased state funding for higher education. Ohio colleges and universities, in response to receiving less money from the state, annually increased tuition and fees to cover their costs, making it increasingly difficult for students from low-income backgrounds to make up the difference.

Despite the lack of state funding for higher education, since 1972, low-income students could rely on financial support from the Federal Pell Grant. The Pell Grant is an important piece of the financial aid puzzle for low-income students, often making the difference between a student being able to enroll in a postsecondary program, or not. Here are some interesting facts about the Pell Grant:

For low-income students, the Pell Grant is the glue that holds higher education financial aid together, even though it covers less of the cost of attendance (by a lot) than it did 40 years ago. Despite its importance as a tool for increasing college access among low-income students, the Pell Grant is an endangered species. As Congress works to balance the budget, the Pell Grant finds itself on the chopping block year after year, putting 8 million students at risk of losing financial aid.

How can you help? This week, NCAN is implementing its #Thankful4Pell campaign, aimed at letting our Congressional leaders know just how important the Pell Grant is and the impact it makes. You can make your voice heard – as an individual or as an organization – by clicking the campaign link above and contacting your representatives in Congress. They make it easy for you – all you have to do is choose from their email or social media templates – or write your own – and put in your contact information. Their system automatically finds your reps and sends them your messages.

If you or someone you know is #Thankful4Pell, like we are at College Now, please support this campaign to ensure its future.

A Pre-Thanksgiving Checklist for High School Seniors

A Pre-Thanksgiving Checklist for High School Seniors

It’s the beginning of November, and if you’re a high school senior, you’re busy with school, extracurricular activities, oh, and figuring out what you’re going to do next year. No big deal, right? For many high school seniors, Fall is an overwhelming time, full of items that need to be crossed off of lists and boxes that need to be checked before graduation in the spring.

We’re here to simplify things for you with a quick checklist of “must do before Thanksgiving” items.

These are the tasks that need to be prioritized for completion by Thanksgiving of your senior year. If you need help with anything on this list, feel free to reach out to the College Now advisor in your school or make an appointment in our Resource Center by calling 216.635.0151 or emailing resourcecenter@collegenowgc.org.

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Does the Early Bird Get the Worm? Breaking Down Early Action and Early Decision

Does the Early Bird Get the Worm? Breaking Down Early Action and Early Decision

We’ve all been told that “the early bird gets the worm,” or been asked “why put off for tomorrow what you can do today?” This is good advice in many areas in life, and for some students, it also can be true of the college application process. There are two ways students can get the work and stress of college application season out of the way early: early decision and early action. In this post, we will define each plan and lay out the pros and cons so you can make the best decision possible.

Both early decision and early action allow students to apply to their first choice schools – and receive admissions decisions from those schools – early in the process. With early decision, students generally apply before Thanksgiving and know whether they’ve been accepted by Christmas. With early action, students also apply by Thanksgiving but do not hear whether or not they’ve been accepted until January or February – still early in the process. The most significant difference between early decision and early action is that if a student applies to a school early decision and is accepted, he or she must enroll in that school and withdraw applications sent to other schools, whereas if the student applies early action, he or she has until May 1 to decide where to enroll.

The Pros of Early Decision:

The Cons of Early Decision:

The Pros of Early Action:

Cons of Early Action:

Now that we’ve defined early decision and early action and examined their pros and cons, let’s discuss which type of students these programs may and may not benefit.

Early decision and early action programs are great for students who:

Early decision and early action programs are NOT great for students who:

Again, not every school offers early decision and early action, and there is not a standard set of requirements among schools that do, so it’s important – just as with every other part of the college-going process – that students research and understand the individual school’s expectations with respect to early admissions programs.

Just as in other areas in life, the early bird often does get the worm with early decision and early action programs, but they have to be really sure it’s the right worm! If you need help navigating the early decision/early action process, call us at 216.241.5587, and we’ll be happy to help.

 

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What You Need to Know about Issue 108

With the election fast approaching, we at College Now would like to share some information with you about an issue that is important to us: Issue 108, the renewal of the 2012 four-year levy for the Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD).

In 2012, Cleveland voters passed a 15-mill levy that focused on improving high schools in the CMSD, and also began the work of Mayor Jackson’s strategic initiative known as the Cleveland Plan for Transforming Schools. With the 2012 levy, school and city officials said they sought better results for students, including improved graduation rates, enrollment and academic performance. And while results haven’t been outstanding, we are seeing progress, and school reforms have been working.

Since 2012, the four-year graduation rate in the CMSD has risen 10 percentage points from 56 percent to 66 percent for the class of 2015. Crain’s Cleveland Business reported that District enrollment was 38,555 for the 2014-2015 school year, which is the highest figure in at the least the past 25 years. Academic performance has improved, as well, with 10 percent fewer students needing remediation in math or English upon their matriculation to college; seven percent more students graduating with a 3.0 GPA or higher; and three percent more students obtaining a score of 21 or higher on the ACT.

Recent state reports do not tell the full story. Ohio has changed how it rates its schools, which accounts for Cleveland’s F grades on Ohio’s most recent state report card; the state has adopted tougher standards, which results in lower grades, despite gains being made in some categories. The Plain Dealer’s Patrick O’Donnell found that, in fact, Cleveland’s performance has improved relative to other districts in Ohio. This shows that the initiatives put into place four years ago are working. We are seeing progress.

Additionally, the 2012 levy and the Cleveland Plan launched 18 new high school programs, increased the number of four-year-olds in quality preschools and brought more high quality schools to Cleveland neighborhoods. Investing in reforms has shown the District which schools are improving and which are failing – and it has been acknowledged that some failing schools cannot be saved. The levy and the Cleveland Plan have helped to highlight the strongest schools in the District, and the quality of these schools must continue to improve.

The Cleveland schools are not going to change overnight. The past four years of work, however, show us that progress is possible. Renewing the 2012 levy would serve to continue that progress, to institute new reforms and keep the forward momentum going.

It is important to note that a vote for Issue 108 will not increase taxes for those living in the city of Cleveland. Issue 108 is simply a renewal of a previous increase, so costs will remain the same.

Issue 108 will also allow the District to focus more intensely on upgrades to elementary and middle schools in the CMSD, after investing more resources into high schools over the last four years. At College Now, we know that the earlier students are successful, the more likely they are to persist to a postsecondary education. Investing in schools for younger students will demonstrate to them, and to their families, that education is valued at every level in the CMSD.

The renewal of this levy is vital to the future success of our students. If we want the progress being made in the Cleveland school to continue, we need to ensure that the District has the resources it needs to make these critical improvements. A vote for Issue 108 is a vote for our students, for their futures, for their success. We cannot stall the progress that has already been made, and we cannot deprive our students of this investment.

You can read more about the levy at www.keepgoingcleschools.com and learn about ways to get involved, including volunteering for the campaign, donating and requesting yard signs.

Big Changes Are Coming…to the FAFSA

In 2015, a couple of major changes were announced to the very important Free Application for Federal Student Aid, also known as the FAFSA. With the changes being implemented next month, we’re going to use this blog post to break down the changes for you. We’re also going to use this space to talk about the implications of these changes for students filing the FAFSA for the first time as well as for student who have previously filed.

First, what’s changed?

Previously, the FAFSA, which is a critical part of the college-going process, as it helps determine how much financial aid a student receives, opened each year on January 1, after many students had completed the college application process. This meant that, in many cases, students would learn about college acceptances well in advance of learning about how much financial aid they would receive, leaving them to make a big life decision without all of the information necessary to make it an informed decision.

As a result, the U.S. Department of Education has changed the start date of the FAFSA from January 1 to October 1 to allow students and families to complete the form at the same time that they complete their college applications and to allow higher ed institutions to make decisions about financial aid at the same time that they make admissions decisions. The intended benefit here is to help students and families make a more informed choice about where to enroll. Whereas previously, many students had to declare where they would enroll before knowing how much financial aid they would receive, moving up the availability of the FAFSA will allow them to have a clearer picture about total cost of attendance and how much financial aid they will receive so they can make a sound financial decision.

Making the FAFSA available earlier presented a challenge, though. The FAFSA is completed using prior-year income tax information. So, students who enrolled in a postsecondary program for the Fall 2016 semester used their families’ 2015 income tax information. But since families will not have their 2016 tax information yet (because 2016 will not yet have ended by the time the FAFSA opens in October), the second big change to the FAFSA is the use of prior-prior-year (PPY) tax information to complete the form. So, students intending to enroll in a postsecondary program for the 2017/2018 academic year will use their 2015 tax information in order to take advantage of the earlier FAFSA and ideally receive admissions and financial aid award information at the same time.

Another benefit to the PPY change is that it makes actually completing the form easier, since nearly everyone who filed their 2015 tax returns can easily transfer that information to the FAFSA form electronically, using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool, taking some of the headache out of completing the form.

So what does this mean to you? If you are a first time filer:

Great news! You get to take advantage of the new, improved FAFSA. All you have to do is use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool to upload your 2015 tax information to the FAFSA. This will save you time and trouble!

If you have filed the FAFSA before:

The good news is, you also can take advantage of the new, improved FAFSA. The bad news is, you’ve got to make sure the information you shared for the 16-17 FAFSA matches what you will enter for your 17-18 FAFSA.

What does that mean? In some cases, there may be a discrepancy between the 2015 tax information provided by students on the 16-17 FAFSA and the 17-18 FAFSA. A discrepancy could occur if a student provided estimated 2015 income on their 16-17 FAFSA (so they could meet the previous February 15 priority deadline if they hadn’t yet filed their taxes, for example) and did not go back in and adjust the income when they filed their taxes. The 16-17 FAFSA would show the estimate, but the 17-18 FAFSA, using the IRS Data Retrieval tool, will pull the actual 2015 income information. Such a difference can alter a family’s Expected Family Contribution (EFC), which particularly impacts low-income students who could potentially receive the Pell Grant.

The Department of Education is working with higher ed institutions to minimize the impact of potential conflicts that may arise as a result of the use of PPY tax information.

Our advice to FAFSA filers:
If you used a 2015 income estimate on your 16-17 FAFSA, MAKE SURE YOU GO BACK IN AND UPDATE IT WITH THE ACTUAL INCOME FROM YOUR 2015 TAX RETURN!
• Stay in constant contact with the schools you are applying to or enrolled in to make sure your FAFSA is moving through the process properly.
• College Now is working hard to stay abreast of the changes and their implications for students, so please make sure to use us as a resource, too! If you have questions, feel free to contact us at 216.241.5587. We will work with you to answer any questions you may have or resolve any conflict that may arise.
We believe that the changes to the FAFSA will positively impact students and families in the long run, but no major change comes without some growing pains!

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The Role of Social Capital in College Access and Completion

Natural ability, intelligence, education and effort only get one so far in life. Beyond that, individuals need to tap into external resources in order to be successful. They need social capital. Sounds like a buzz word, right? It is, and it’s being talked about a lot right now, but the concept of social capital is really quite straightforward. Simply put, social capital is a network of information and resources from which an individual benefits.

Probably the easiest-to-understand application is how social capital is related to one’s professional life. A strong professional network helps individuals achieve their career goals. But the implications of social capital – or the lack thereof – influence individuals long before careers are launched – as early as high school – when students are trying to access information and resources to prepare for postsecondary education.

How are social capital and college access and completion linked?

Social capital and college access are linked in several ways. First, it can be linked to access to information about career possibilities and the educational pathways to those careers. High school students from higher-income, suburban backgrounds see a wide variety of career options and can count on friends and family members to help them explore different careers and answer questions about how to pursue them. For first-generation and low-income students, their exposure is much more limited. They know about doctors and nurses, for example, but they don’t know about other opportunities in health care, like phlebotomy or radiology. This limited exposure often also creates limits for what they think they’re capable of, which influences the postsecondary choices they make.

Second, social capital is linked to access to information and resources about the college process. Again, students from more affluent backgrounds have social capital in that they have friends and family members who have gone to college and gotten a degree – people who understand the cumbersome process and the milestones that must be met in order to enroll in a postsecondary program. These are also people who can advocate on behalf of the student when he or she encounters a problem. First-generation and low-income students often do not have that social capital or support system when they embark on the college-going process. Despite good intentions among friends and family members, the system is set up to support those who already know how to navigate it. College visits, completing admissions applications, applying for financial aid, etc. are things that it is assumed everyone does or knows to do as they prepare for life after high school. But for a low-income student, going on a college visit is often challenging due to lack of transportation. A first-generation student may get through college applications and the financial aid process but might not know the difference between a grant and a loan and could wind up making a poor financial decision as a result. Long story short, having social capital in the form of someone who has been through the process is critical to student success.

College Now’s approach to building social capital

Again, students need a significant amount of support as they begin thinking about life after high school. The process of planning for postsecondary education is challenging for all students – but first-generation and low-income students often lack the social capital necessary to make informed decisions about what comes next and are essentially on their own to find their way through the labyrinth of the processes and deadlines related to the college-going process.

College Now works to help first-generation, low-income students access and build social capital in several ways. First, while students are still in high school, our advisors serve as the adult in a student’s life who has successfully navigated the postsecondary process. With advisors embedded within more than 80 Greater Cleveland schools, College Now becomes the link between students and information, resources and advocacy. Our advisors help them learn about careers and the educational pathways that lead to them; facilitate ACT/SAT prep; walk them through the application and financial aid process; advocate to schools on the students’ behalf; help them determine which educational option is their best fit; and support them through the transition to college.

Once they’re in college, College Now helps its scholarship recipients build social capital through its Mentoring Program. Each student is paired with a professional in the community whose “job” it is to be a completion coach of sorts – basically, to help the mentee overcome any obstacle (big or small) that might interfere with his or her ability to complete a degree. And, in many cases, the mentor helps his or her mentee build a professional network through which the student can find internships and jobs. In a lot of ways, finding a job when you’re fresh out of college is more a matter of who you know, not what you know; and for first-generation and low-income students, having help getting a foot in the door makes all the difference.

From high school to college to that first foray into the professional world and beyond, social capital is an extremely helpful resource. It is not something that everyone is born with, but social capital is something that organizations like College Now are committed to ensuring that all students acquire to enable them to find educational and professional success.

Planning an Impactful College Visit for First-Gen, Low-Income Students

Summer is college visit season, an important part of the college process for all students but especially for first-generation and low-income students. Visiting colleges can be an overwhelming experience for students, but it can be particularly overwhelming for students from this group who often lack exposure to colleges and campus life because they do not have an adult in their lives who has been to college. As a result, it is critical to create a college visit experience that will resonate with them and help them feel comfortable with the process.

At College Now, we take students on college visits year-round, and here are a few suggestions for how to make college visits meaningful to first-gen and low-income students:

Prepare in Advance

Don’t go into a college visit cold. Have your student do research about the school you’re going to visit ahead of time. What majors/minors do they offer? What student organizations could they join? What percentage of students live on-campus vs. off-campus? These are a few things to keep in mind as you help your student prepare.

In addition, your student can send his or her transcript to the college’s admissions office ahead of your visit. This demonstrates your student’s interest and can help the college tailor your visit to your student’s interests and needs.

Focus on Financial Aid

For first-generation and low-income students, their main concern when on a college visit is “Can I really afford to do this?” So, while the campus tour and the admissions spiel are important, too, try to tailor your visit so that the focus is on financial aid, as opposed to just admissions. Meet with a financial aid counselor, who can explain everything that goes into the cost of attendance, the financial aid options available to them and any additional programs the individual school might have to support them.

Make Connections to On-Campus Resources

This is important for ALL students, but it’s especially important for first-generation and low-income students. There are many on-campus resources available to ensure students are as successful as possible. Make sure you seek out information on support services that are available on campus like the writing and math center, tutoring, ESL, multicultural affairs, etc. Helping students make connections to services that are available to help them makes it more likely that they will seek out those resources should they need them when they arrive on campus.

Seek out the First-Year Experience

Often, admissions tours show you the shiny, new facilities on campus; and while they’re impressive and exciting, it’s also important that students see where they’ll be spending their time freshman year – spoiler alert: freshmen don’t often spend a lot of time in the newer buildings! Make sure your student has an opportunity to see the freshman dorms and the dining halls. Check out the academic buildings in which your student will have class – this is particularly important if he or she already has a major in mind.

And, speaking of classes, try to sit in on one to give your student a taste of what college-level coursework is like. Even students who are in honors classes in high school find the rigor of college classes to be more than they expected. Seeing a college class first-hand will help your student understand the amount of work it will take to be successful in college as compared to high school.

Keep in Mind that the Students Selected by the School to Engage Your Student Can Make or Break the Visit

The college students you see on campus during your visit are critical to the impression the school leaves on your student. A big reason people do college visits is to help students visualize what it would be like to attend that particular school. Having a tour guide or staff member versed in the issues facing first-gen and low-income students who can accurately answer your student’s questions is really important. Additionally, seeing a student panel where diversity is reflected and your student can see someone who looks like him or her – in terms of race/ethnicity, academic performance, income-level, major of interest, etc. – helps him or her see how he or she could potentially find his or her place on campus. And, if your student is interested in a specific student organization or sport, see if the admissions office can arrange a meeting with that organization’s leaders or coaching staff.

These are just a few ways to ensure that your first-generation, low-income student comes away from a college visit with the information he or she needs to make an informed decision about whether or not a school is the right fit. It is by no means an exhaustive list. What tips do you have for successful college visits?

 

Tips for a Successful Freshman Year of College

As summer draws to a close, many students are embarking on one of the biggest adventures of their lives so far – their freshman year of college.

While starting college is certainly an exciting time, it can also be overwhelming and filled with some apprehension. Even if a student was successful in high school, college can be a different ballgame altogether. It’s important to remain on top of that game, and College Now has some tips and tricks for freshmen college students to ensure everyone has a successful first year.

These are just a few tips to help you make the transition to college easier. And, as always, College Now is a resource for all things college. If you run into a problem, call our Resource Center at 216.635.0151 and talk to one of our advisors who can help you troubleshoot and stay on track.

Ice Cream and Popsicles Aren’t the Only Things that Melt in the Summer. Students Do, Too.

Summer is an exciting time for high school graduates who intend to enroll in a postsecondary program. They’ve made it to the finish line! They’ve taken the ACT/SAT (often multiple times), applied to schools, applied for financial aid, deciphered admissions and financial aid awards and made big decisions about their futures, and, in many cases, paid tuition and housing deposits – all before they walk across the stage at graduation.

But for first-generation and low-income students, summer is also a time when they are at risk. Despite being college-ready and having displayed behaviors that would lead one to believe they will go to college, a significant number of first-generation, low-income students don’t show up on campus in the fall. In the college access world, we call this summer melt.

The U.S. Department of Education estimates that somewhere between 10 and 20 percent of college eligible students “melt” over the summer for a number of reasons, many of which have to do with being unfamiliar with the process of going to college and being unaware of the list of to-dos that must be completed over the summer before arriving on campus in the fall – things like registering for orientation, taking placement tests, registering for classes, completing housing forms and actually paying the tuition bill are all things that take place the summer before freshman year. Missing a deadline on one or more of these items can be the difference between a first-generation, low-income student showing up prepared or getting discouraged and not showing up at all in September.

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.

It is in all of our best interest to do what we can to reduce summer melt. Here, at College Now, our advisors do “transition to college” workshops to help students anticipate all of the things that need to be done over the summer. Additionally, our scholarship recipients have to do a summer interview with our 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 can help the students overcome some of the obstacles they may be facing as fall approaches.

What can you do to prevent summer melt among students you know? Talk to them to make sure they’re going to orientation and registering for classes. Guide them through the process by helping them find the on-campus resources that are there to support them and answer their questions (they ARE there). Most importantly, help them learn how to advocate for themselves when they have a problem.

Getting first-generation, low-income students to and through college really does take a village, and making sure that incoming college freshmen make it through the summer without melting is a critical step.

 

Financial Aid Doesn’t End When You Finish School

You’ve done it – you graduated from college, earned your degree and have the diploma to prove it. You’re ready to take that next step. There’s one thing, however, that’s still tying you to your postsecondary education.

Your loans.

Although your schooling may be over, your financial aid has not ended yet. Within six months of your graduation, you will need to start paying back the money you borrowed at the start of your education. Before you get overwhelmed at the thought of drowning in debt, know that there are ways to keep yourself above water while paying back your loans. Keep the following tips and tricks in mind while paying back your loans, and make your repayment as stress-free as possible!

  1. Choose the right repayment plan
    You may not know it, but you don’t have to stick with the repayment amount you’re given when you first begin to pay off your loans. The standard plan helps you pay off your loan quickly – it’s structured to help you pay off your loans in 10 years. However, your monthly payments will be on the higher side.
    If you don’t mind taking longer to pay off your loans, you can get yourself into an income-driven repayment plan, which typically gives you a lower monthly payment that will help you pay your loans off in about 20-25 years. However, that also means you’ll be paying more interest over the course of your repayment, making your total amount paid likely more than the original amount of your loan.
    Choosing the wrong repayment plan can have detrimental effects on your budget, your bank account and your credit score if you fall behind in your payments. Make sure you get into a repayment plan that works for your situation, and helps you achieve your goal – a quick repayment time, or lower monthly payments. You can even consolidate your loans for a better repayment option.
    Finally, also look into federal loan forgiveness programs when you’re researching repayment options. Income-driven repayment plans can offer loan forgiveness at after 20 or 25 years, meaning that even if you have a balance at the end of that time, it can get forgiven by the government. Additionally, check with your employer to see if they are part of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. The Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program forgives the remainder of your loans if you have made 120 qualifying monthly payments under a qualifying repayment plan while working full-time for a qualifying employer. Qualifying employers include the government (any level), non-profits that qualify for 501(c)3 tax-exempt status, or non-profits without 501(c)3 status that provide qualifying public services.
  2. Don’t miss a payment
    After you choose your repayment plan and set your monthly payment amount, find out how you can set up automatic payments through your loan servicer. By having your payment automatically deducted from your bank account every month, you won’t have to worry about forgetting to make a payment on time or missing one altogether.
    Missing or late payments are strikes on your credit score. If you are in a situation where you cannot afford your next payment, contact your loan servicer to learn about your options to reduce or postpone your payment, and keep your loans in good standing.
  3. Consider all your options before postponing a payment
    Of course, there may come a time when you are experiencing some financial hardships and your loan payments need to take a backseat to other necessities. The two ways you can temporarily stop your payments are through deferment or forbearance. While they may be helpful to alleviate immediate hardship, they don’t actually help you pay back your loan. Your loan will continue to accrue interest, despite you not making payments, and your interest may even capitalize. This means, when you resume your payments, your loan balance will be even higher than it was before.
    If you need some relief in your loan payment, make sure you consider other options before flat-out postponing your payments. Contact your loan servicer to see if you can get put on a different repayment plan that can lower your monthly payments.
  4. Never pay for loan advice or help
    While you’re browsing the internet or researching information about your loan, you may encounter programs that will charge you a fee for loan advice. The U.S. Department of Education and loan servicers will never charge you for their service.
    However, your loan servicer can only help you if they can reach you. Keep your contact information up-to-date with your loan servicer, so they can quickly and easily get in touch with you to talk about repayment options or any changes or concerns there may be with your loans.
  5. Contact College Now with any questions you have about your loans
    If you have more questions about your loans or are unsure about how to start paying back what you owe, College Now won’t charge you for loan help and loan advice, either. If you want to consolidate your loans, learn about ways to lower your monthly payments or ask questions about loan forgiveness, contact College Now Greater Cleveland or stop by our Downtown Cleveland Resource Center today. We will never charge for our services, and we will make sure that you are on the best track to repay your loans in a way that you can afford and that makes the most sense for your post-graduation situation.