“We’re miracles, that’s what we are.”
College Now Greater Cleveland hosts adult scholars summit
By Jane M. Von Bergen
Photos by I. George Bilyk
Inside the library, all was quiet as is usual in libraries – just whispers and murmuring.
Even so, nobody shushed Patricia Gray, 58, and Victoria Gallagher, 57, as they hugged in the corridor, alternately weeping and smiling, trying to keep their joy courteous, given the location.
“We’re miracles, that’s what we are,” Gallagher said.
Gray and Gallagher hadn’t known each other before that September Saturday, when they met at the Brooklyn branch of the Cuyahoga County Public Library for an Adult Scholars Summit held by College Now Greater Cleveland, an affiliate of The Graduate! Network, a national organization.
For 50 years, College Now has maintained a laser focus on increasing post-secondary educational attainment – from college to professional certificates – in the greater Cleveland area, helping 29,000 a year. Mentorship matters.
In the Bridging the Talent Gap Employee Community Report for Cleveland, one in five adult learners surveyed identified mentoring as helpful in achieving education goals. The 2019 report, funded in part by Walmart, the Cleveland Indians, Team NEO and College Now, pointed out that one in four adult learners – 26 percent – wanted educational advice geared to career goals.
And while College Now annually recruits hundreds of mentors to pair with its traditional scholarship recipients, there simply aren’t enough for adults returning to college after years away from the classroom.
So, at least for now, if the adult learners were going to be mentored, they’d have to mentor themselves. And, for guidance on career-building basics like LinkedIn and resume writing, well, they’d have to do it as a group.
Which was, as it turns out, plenty OK.
The food at the College Now event was good – coffee, chicken, cookies and some salad for the virtuous among the 30 or so gathered in a meeting room. The sessions were even better, featuring presenters on LinkedIn and resume writing. Volunteers stood ready to offer suggestions.
But the best?
The connections forged between people like Gray and Gallagher. College Now wisely set aside time so participants could exchange business cards – and, more importantly, encouragement.
As adult students well beyond traditional college years, Gray and Gallagher shared a common life story with others in the room. To be in college, they and many others there had to struggle — sometimes daily — with poverty, abuse, addiction and crippling self-doubt. It’s not only the story in Ohio, but across the nation. It’s a narration that The Graduate! Network is trying to change one comebacker at a time.
“You think you’re the only one, until you are put in this situation where you can meet each other,” Gallagher said. “It’s a big relief.”
Gray nodded and pressed Gallagher’s hands in hers. “Nobody would have thought I’d be where I am today,” she said.
In Ohio, just over one in four adults has a bachelor’s degree or higher. One in five adults, 20.5 percent, are like Gallagher – people who began college, but didn’t finish. College graduates typically command higher earnings. But adults who don’t finish don’t get the earnings bump that comes with a diploma. Worse, they are often saddled with college debt they can’t afford to pay.
Gallagher bounced around the country as a military spouse, earning an associate degree while she stayed home, raising five children. When her husband left the Marines, they moved to Medina, Ohio. Over time, Gallagher said, she faced escalating domestic abuse. “He even threw things at me in the grocery store.” Struggling to cope, she turned to alcohol, eventually conquering a three-year addiction.
Next? An ugly divorce. The children lived in the family home with their father, and “I was homeless during the divorce, until the court intervened.”
She turned to Cuyahoga Community College en route to a four-year degree, earning a second associate degree. The Women In Transition program there connected her to College Now, which is helping Gallagher graduate from Ursuline College with a bachelor’s degree in social work – she should get her diploma in 2020.
“I’ve already been offered positions,” she said.
Until she finishes, Gallagher cleans houses. “It’s how I pay my bills,” she said. “Sometimes I clean three or four houses a day.”
Because of her $2,000-a-semester scholarship from College Now, Gallagher can clean less, giving her time for the unpaid internship both required for graduation and key to building a career.
Gray’s story? “Fifteen years of depression and addiction,” she said. “I never thought that messing up my life would now allow me to help others.”
After Gray’s mother died when Gray was 34, Gray spiraled into depression and addiction. Her cousin raised her son while Gray slept in shelters and on friends’ sofas.
By 2010, Gray managed to get clean and enroll at Cuyahoga Community College. In 2017, she earned an associate degree in information technology. “Once I accomplished that,” she said, “I realized there wasn’t anything I couldn’t do.”
Except — she ran out of money.
College Now rescued her dream with scholarships. Gray expects to earn a bachelor’s degree in IT project management from Ohio University in 2020. Meanwhile, she juggles schoolwork with a counseling job and IT consulting work.
For Gray, the diploma will mean “living a dream that was deferred and showing others that no matter where you were, you don’t have to stay there.” Gallagher offered one word: “Stability.”
In the library, both women talked about the most basic benefit – respect. Instead of being talked to and lectured at, their education has already put them in the position of being listened to and treated as knowledgeable professionals.
“For the adult learner, there are so many barriers that have to be addressed,” Gray told the group earlier. “You need that support. A lot of people who aren’t on this journey don’t understand what this is about.
“I’m so grateful this is being recognized,” she said, turning to the College Now staffers who organized Saturday’s event. “Thank you.”
Navigating the Postsecondary Path: Three Focus Areas for Upperclassmen in a New Academic Year
“What are your plans after high school?”
It’s a question all students face at some point in their high school careers, often well before even reaching senior year. As a new school year gets underway, upperclassmen especially will start to engage in more frequent conversations about life after school and will be encountering an increasing amount of responsibility as graduation nears.
College Now supports all students we serve in their unique postsecondary journeys (be in pursuing a four-year or two-year degree or license/credential), and as the school year begins, our advisors are prepared to guide students through all facets of planning for life beyond high school. For upperclassmen, College Now recommends keeping in mind these key elements for pursuing postsecondary education:
FINANCIAL AID AND SCHOLARSHIPS
For most students, affordability remains their top concern regarding higher education. Whether students consider a two- or four-year degree, an apprenticeship, or a certificate program, upperclassmen should research and inquire about a variety of financial aid resources. College Now encourages students and families to have conversations about finances early on to ensure that students have access to as many resources as possible.
Many students postpone their search for scholarships until spring semester of their senior year. However, several opportunities hold much earlier deadlines! For example, every year, the Cleveland Browns Foundation, in partnership with College Now, awards two seniors with a $10,000 scholarship, and the application (found here) remains open only through September 30th, 2019.
Additionally, College Now advisors can assist students in answering questions about eligibility for the Say Yes Scholarship, a tuition gap-closing scholarship available to all eligible students attending an Ohio public four-year university, two-year college, eligible trade or certificate program, or partnering private college in the national Say Yes Higher Education Compact. Students who meet residential requirements and attend a CMSD or eligible partnering charter high school from 9th through 12th grade are eligible. For more information, visit SayYesCleveland.org.
College Now advisors will also begin the year reminding seniors that the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) opens on October 1st, 2019. Completing the FAFSA remains an essential step in funding one’s postsecondary education and College Now recommends that students and parents gather all necessary documentation ahead of time to ensure a smooth filing process.
ACADEMIC PERFORMANCE AND ENTRANCE EXAM PREP
For many high school juniors and seniors, their stress centers around college entrance exams. To help students achieve their best results, College Now offers an 8-week program called impact!, which is designed to improve students’ ACT, SAT, and PSAT scores and increase students’ college and career readiness with a focus on reading and math. Registration for this program, hosted at nine different locations, is available here.
In addition to test scores, postsecondary admission representatives will review students’ academic performance based on GPA and difficulty of coursework. For juniors, keep in mind that most colleges will require 11th grade transcripts with applications, so it’s important to maintain strong grades during this academic year. But that doesn’t mean that seniors receive a free pass! Most postsecondary programs require students to send their final transcripts after graduation before students can officially enroll, so beware of “senioritis,” and continue to put forth your best effort.
FINDING THE RIGHT FIT
Finances and academics make up only part of the postsecondary equation. Discovering the right postsecondary fit is equally important to a student’s success beyond high school. To guide students through this process, College Now advisors utilize the MAP (Managing Advancement Programs) Database, a clearinghouse of training and education programs that lead to in-demand jobs in Northeast Ohio. This tool, among others, helps students determine which opportunities best suit their skills and interests and how that applies to a career.
Financial aid, academic performance, and uncovering the right fit significantly impact a student’s plans for postsecondary education. College Now continues to utilize a variety of resources to guide students through their individual paths to postsecondary success and looks forward to working with students throughout this academic year!
Turning Readers into Leaders: The Inaugural CLE Reads Book Festival
On July 13th, over 125 students, parents, and community members gathered at the downtown branch of the Cleveland Public Library for the inaugural CLE Reads Book Festival. In addition to the Cleveland Public Library, College Now served as a sponsor and supported the newly developed CLE Reads initiative in bringing the first book festival of its kind to the city.
The festival was created by three local founders, including College Now Manager of Advising Programs and Services Bailey Capelle, who were inspired by The Bronx Book Festival in New York City. They sought to carry out a similar vision in Northeast Ohio with a mission to “promote literacy and foster a deep love for reading within the Cleveland community,” particularly with local youth in mind.
Once hearing the CLE Reads mission, the 21st Century team at College Now recognized this festival as an excellent opportunity to compliment the work of the impact! program. This program, made possible with funds granted by the Ohio Department of Education through the 21st Century Community Learning Centers grants, is administered in partnership with like-minded community organizations. It is designed to improve students’ ACT, SAT, and PSAT scores and increase students’ college and career readiness with a focus on math and reading.
A major goal of the impact! program is to promote reading among students, as College Now knows that it positively effects students’ performance on standardized tests and college entrance exams. While some students gravitate toward reading more than others, site coordinators have found that resistant students become more engaged when they find literature relatable to their own lives. That’s why the vision of CLE Reads, to champion diversity and representation in literature, is so important: In order for students to have the best opportunities, resources need to be delivered thoughtfully.
The festival brought 14 award-winning, bestselling, and critically acclaimed young adult and middle-grade authors to Cleveland to share their works and encourage a love for literature among students. They represented different backgrounds, experiences, and identities, and spoke on a variety of topics spanning from fiction to fantasy, and romance to cultural traditions. Five authors were local to Ohio, including one from Cuyahoga County and one from Lorain County, and the remaining traveled from Boston, California, and New York to attend.
Participants enjoyed a range of activities throughout the day. Authors spoke on panels with topics on love, heroism, creating alternate universes, and more. Attendees were also able to participate in breakout sessions in which they gathered insights about building strong characters and artfully constructing plot to apply to their own writing skill development.
In addition to the rich educational opportunities available at the festival, the CLE Reads team distributed 205 free books to the students and families in attendance, many of whom were able to get their new books personally signed by the authors on-site.
College Now was honored to partner for this inaugural event and looks forward to continuing to support the CLE Reads Book Festival in their work to turn student readers into leaders!
Freezing Summer Melt
Have you ever been excited to try a new activity, only to realize it was more time-intensive and confusing than you originally thought? Were there unwritten rules that you hadn’t known about previously and even additional supplies to purchase that you hadn’t anticipated? Perhaps you quickly got frustrated and, after struggling to get advice from your friends or family who hadn’t tried similar activities, your excitement quickly dwindled, and you never actually followed through.
This metaphor offers a glimpse into the experiences of many first and low-income students in the post-secondary planning process. Despite being college-ready and displaying behaviors that indicate they will go to college, a significant number of under-resourced students don’t show up on campus in the fall for several reasons, including:
- densely worded financial aid documents, intimidating financial gaps, and confusing payment processes;
- navigating steps to complete placements tests (there are more tests?!), registering for orientation, and deciding which classes to take;
- completing housing forms, sending health records, and choosing a meal-plan;
- and numerous other hurdles.
Missing a deadline on one or more of these items can generate the difference between a first-generation, low-income student showing up to campus feeling prepared, or getting discouraged and not showing up at all in August.
In the college access world, we call this summer melt. The Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard University estimates that ten to forty percent of students who demonstrate intent to enroll fail to do so in the months after their high school graduation.
This phenomenon is not new. In fact, there’s been a lot of buzz around this topic for the last decade, but it remains a critical factor in our collective efforts to broaden access to postsecondary education nationally and in the greater Cleveland area.
Many institutions and organizations have implemented different intervention strategies, like automated chat-bots and text-messaging systems that “nudge” students when a to-do item is approaching. At College Now, our advisors provide numerous resources during the school year, like “transition to college” workshops, to ensure that college-ready students are as prepared as possible to head off to campus in the fall. But our work doesn’t end when students cross the stage at graduation.
Our advisors continue to work with students and remain available for questions throughout the summer. Additionally, our scholarship recipients are required to complete summer information sessions with our Scholarships and Financial Aid team to ensure they understand their financial aid awards and any potential funding gaps they may have. And finally, our scholarship recipients are paired with mentors toward the end of the summer – professionals who have navigated the college experience themselves and are able to help students overcome some of the obstacles they may face as they begin their first semester.
Enrolling in and completing a postsecondary degree or credential – or not – has long-term implications for the students and the communities in which they live. Individuals with bachelor’s degrees earn 65 percent more – the equivalent of $1 million over the course of a career – than their counterparts with only a high school diploma. The community benefits from having more credentialed residents, too. Areas with more college graduates have lower crime rates, enhanced community services, reduced reliance on government safety net services and a larger tax base.
As a community, it is in all our best interests to support students and combat summer melt. Check in with students that you know and ask them when they’re scheduled for orientation and what classes they’ve signed up for in the fall. Encourage them to thoroughly explore their college’s website and familiarize themselves with all the resources available to them. Most importantly, help them become self-advocates and build perseverance when they encounter challenges.
College Now Chief Program Officer Dr. Michele Scott Taylor Testifies Before U.S. Senate HELP Committee on FAFSA Simplification and Verification
College Now Chief Program Officer Dr. Michele Scott Taylor Testifies Before U.S. Senate HELP Committee on FAFSA Simplification and Verification
On March 12, 2019, College Now’s Chief Program Officer Dr. Michele Scott Taylor sat in front of the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions as one of four experts called on to testify during the full committee hearing on “Reauthorizing the Higher Education Act: Simplifying the FAFSA and Reducing the Burden of Verification.”
Michele, along with Kristina Scott, Executive Director of Alabama Possible, Michael Meotti, Executive Director of Washington Student Achievement Council, and Dr. Mark Wiederspan, Executive Research Officer at Iowa Student Aid, spoke to the Senate HELP Committee about concerns and challenges faced by students, particularly low-income, first-generation students, when filling out the FAFSA in its current state.
During her testimony, Michele reiterated that both the real and perceived complexity of the FAFSA is a hinderance for the students and families who need Federal financial aid the most. Drawing on her own experience as a first-generation college student, Michele also emphasized that transparency of information is vital to the college application process, stating that, “Getting to and through college is a full-time job.”
During the question portion of the hearing, Michele was asked about Federal programs such as GEAR UP, TriO, and 21st Century Community Learning Center programming. Michele advocated for these programs, describing how they enable early access to the college-going process and facilitate earlier and deeper conversations about postsecondary education.
Michele’s colleagues on the panel advocated for similar changes and approaches to fixing the FAFSA. Kristina Scott from Alabama Possible presented the solution of simplifying and streamlining the FAFSA without using confusing terms that students and families may not understand. Michael Meotti of Washington Student Achievement Council recommended fixing the verification system and building more student-friendly pathways in the financial aid system.
Dr. Mark Wiederspan of Iowa College Aid emphasized that all individuals should have the same opportunity to pursue the benefits that college and higher education bring, but the FAFSA can make pursuing higher education more difficult for many students.
The groundwork for Michele’s testifying had been laid during a trip to Capital Hill by College Now and Higher Education Compact staff members Kittie Warshawsky and Margie Glick. After hearing that the Senate HELP Committee would be having a hearing on FAFSA simplification and verification, Margie and Kittie contacted NCAN to express College Now’s enthusiasm about potentially testifying.
College Now is proud of the testimony by Michele, Kristina Scott, Michael Meotti, and Dr. Mark Wiederspan, and looks forward to following the U.S. Senate HELP Committee’s progress surrounding issues of FAFSA simplification and verification.
Making Robert Coplan’s Dream a Reality: Say Yes Cleveland
When Robert Coplan and an anonymous donor founded College Now Greater Cleveland in 1967 (then the Cleveland Scholarship Program), their goal was, at its core, simple: to find a way to enable all students in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD) to go to college. They started their work by offering scholarships to CMSD high school students, but soon saw that students weren’t taking the money. Why? Because they didn’t know what they needed to do to get to college; there needed to be a culture of college knowledge created in the school buildings, and the community, to show these students the steps they needed to take to apply to and get accepted into college.
It was out of this that College Now as we know it today was born. Robert Coplan and the anonymous donor began placing advisors in CMSD high schools to give students advice and guidance on the college-going process, and the work soon grew so that College Now was serving students throughout Northeast Ohio and adult learners.
Throughout all that growth and transformation, though, the original dream of Coplan and the donor has always been there: to find a way for all CMSD students to afford to go to college. As other cities throughout the nation have developed strategies such as promise programs and universal scholarships, our community contemplated these things, as well, wondering what we could do in Cleveland to achieve the dream that Robert Coplan and that donor set out to achieve over 50 years ago.
And then, the opportunity presented itself in Say Yes to Education, a nonprofit that helps communities improve education by providing support services and tuition scholarships to students.
Cleveland has long been a community that works together to make the impossible happen. That is why, when the time came to find a way to get all CMSD students to college, it would be a community-wide effort that would be successful. Almost three years ago, a group of like-minded organizations and community representatives got together to start the work of turning Cleveland into the next Say Yes to Education city. Through deep, intense community commitment, which included evaluating all the services in Cleveland currently providing student supports, reviewing how those services can deepen and become even more effective, and raising $88.4 million, the dream of College Now’s original founders is finally being realized.
As a Say Yes to Education chapter, students will receive services in schools and tuition scholarships once they graduate from a CMSD high school. Services in school will range from legal and health services to college and career advising, all the way from kindergarten through twelfth grade. Students will be able to receive one of two scholarships once they graduate: a Say Yes Cleveland tuition gap-closing scholarship available to all eligible students attending an Ohio public four-year university, two-year college, or Pell eligible trade-certificate program, or a Say Yes Compact tuition gap-closing scholarship available to all eligible students attending over 100 private colleges in the Say Yes Higher Education Compact nationwide.
It is the hope of the entire Cleveland community that offering these intensive, wraparound services with a gap-closing tuition scholarship award will completely change the postsecondary conversation in Cleveland. We know that education is the key to so many opportunities post high school, and that an educated workforce is what Cleveland needs to be competitive in the national economy. The support from the community on this massive project shows that they understand this need, as well, and are willing to dedicate resources to make it happen.
The impact that Say Yes Cleveland will have on these students and their postsecondary journeys is one that College Now has dreamed about since 1967. Together, the Cleveland community has realized this dream and made it a reality. We cannot wait to see how Say Yes Cleveland changes the conversation about education and changes these students’ lives. To all of our partners who worked tirelessly to bring Say Yes to Cleveland, we cannot thank you enough for your support in this endeavor.
Together, we did it.
To learn more about Say Yes Cleveland, including residency and enrollment requirements for receiving the Say Yes Cleveland Scholarship, visit www.sayyescleveland.org.
November 8, 2018: First-Generation College Celebration
Today marks the second annual First-Generation College Celebration, launched last year by the Council for Opportunity in Education and the Center for First-generation Student Success. This event marks the anniversary of the signing of the 1965 Higher Education Act, which helped millions of low-income students become the first in their families to earn college degrees.
Here at College Now, many of the students we serve daily are – or will become – first-generation college students. These students are among the first in their families to view college as a viable option and to think about education after high school. Our advisors help these students learn the ropes of the college application process, help them discover the ins and outs of postsecondary education that their classmates with parents or family members who have postsecondary degrees may already know. Once these students move on to their postsecondary education, the questions don’t stop – which is where the College Now Mentoring Program comes into play.
The College Now Mentoring Program pairs College Now scholarship recipients with mentors in the Greater Cleveland community who help them through their postsecondary years. Especially for first-generation college students, having someone to help them through their college years is a vital part of their success. And, many of our mentors are first-generation college students themselves! They have been in the same place as many of our scholarship recipients, so can provide advice that is exactly what these students need to hear.
Being the first in a family to attend college may be intimidating. However, as many of our mentors and current students have seen, the struggles of being a first-generation college student are more than worth it in the end. But don’t take our word for it – here are some thoughts straight from our mentors and students themselves!
“I would not be where I am today without my education. At the time my family didn’t really understand how things worked but they did know it was important that I complete my degree. I’m forever grateful for that ‘push.’” – Terry J., mentor
“If the major is carefully chosen and high grades achieved, a college degree can have a major positive impact on your life. I earned my degree from Youngstown State University and it propelled me to a great career. Go for it. It can do the same for you!” – Robert P., mentor
“Being the first person in my family to attend college brought an entirely new set of expectations and experiences that no one in my family had experienced before. The application process itself was a whole new ballgame, and not one that anyone in my family could necessarily help me with. Given this situation, I was incredibly grateful to find support in outside resources and programs like College Now.
“Having the opportunity to attend college and earn my degree has put me on a path to success that would not have been possible otherwise. I am currently pursuing a dual-degree program and will graduate this coming May with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing and a Bachelor of Arts in the Spanish Language and Culture. College has also given me many other opportunities—and I’ve been blessed to be able to study abroad in Costa Rica, lead various student organizations, build professional experience in healthcare, and so much more!” – Mary C., student
First-generation college students can also be the catalyst for others in their family to pursue a postsecondary education – sometimes even encouraging their parents to return to school and get their degrees.
“Being a first-generation college student gives me an extreme sense of pride. I didn’t know it at the time, but looking back, I set the precedent for my siblings to go to college as well as other members of my family. I showed them that it was possible. Our family now has a generation of educated adults that seemed nearly impossible some years ago.” – Heidi N., mentor
“College not only had a major impact on my life, but it saved my life. Attending college opened up doors I only dreamt about and if I had the chance to go back I would do it all over again and I am! College not only allowed me to be a leading example for the students I work with, but it also encouraged my parents to attend college. #collegerocks #firstgen #collegenowrocks!” – Cierra K., former College Now Scholarship recipient
“As a first-generation college graduate, I can tell you that I am very proud of my accomplishment and my dedication to achieving my goals. My three children are all second-generation college graduates and that gives me great pride in knowing that my decision to complete my degree set higher standards for my children and, hopefully, future generations to come!” – Michelle L., mentor
“I was the youngest of five with a pretty big age difference between siblings, who ranged from the oldest being 15 years, 14 years, 10 years and then seven years older than me. Yes, I was the unplanned ‘oops’ – but have enjoyed being the one who broke the mold. I was the first in my family to pursue a four-year degree. My father immigrated from Czechoslovakia when he was four years old, lost his father very young and only finished eighth grade. My mother graduated high school, but immediately began working as a waitress and married my father at the grand old age of 19.
“When I began to share with my parents that I intended to go onto college, I think they didn’t really take me seriously. After all, they had raised four other children who either enlisted in the military or entered the workforce right from high school; it was a foreign idea for them. No college fund set up, no regular dinner discussions on what I needed to do either academically or otherwise to make sure that I could attend the college of my choice. Nope. Those conversations never happened. During my junior and senior years, I went on campus visits with my friends or with their families. My parents didn’t see the need. But, as I said, I liked being the one to break the mold, so I continued to follow my dreams.
“Certainly, it was a struggle financially without having the support of my parents or role models within my family to follow. I may have missed out on some social activities in high school or during summer breaks, but it was well worth it. I spent my summers working three jobs simultaneously: babysitting, teaching swimming lessons and scooping ice cream. My days started at 7 am and ended after 11 pm. During the school year, I started and managed a babysitting club – parents would call, and I would arrange jobs for my friends. All of that required organization, focus and planning which helped me throughout high school, college and certainly in my professional career.” – Barb S., mentor
If you haven’t been following us on social media already, make sure you follow College Now on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram as we continue to celebrate today’s First-Generation College Celebration.
Hello, October: It’s FAFSA Season
It’s the first week of October – time for the leaves to change colors, the air to get crisper, and for you to start thinking about the FAFSA.
Beginning October 1, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) opens. And while having to fill out another form during the college application process might not sound like fun, the FAFSA is vital to your college career. Regardless of who you are – a high school senior, current college student, or an adult returning to school – anyone who is thinking about enrolling in a postsecondary program for the 2019-2020 academic year needs to fill out the FAFSA.
The FAFSA, along with the actual college application, is the most important form you can fill out and submit during the application process. Why? Because it unlocks financial resources that can help you pay for your education. Not only is it the gateway to federal dollars, colleges use the information on the FAFSA to determine the amount of institutional aid they award as well. It’s also important to complete the FAFSA as early as you can, as financial aid is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis.
Now, you may think you don’t need to complete the FAFSA if you and/or your family make a certain amount of money. But we cannot stress this enough: EVERYONE should complete a FAFSA – regardless of income level. Financial aid may still be available and, as we previously said, colleges use the FAFSA to determine how much institutional aid they may award.
So you know you have to fill out the FAFSA – but how do you do it?
First, you must obtain your FSA ID. The FSA ID is the username and password you use on federal student aid websites such as fafsa.gov and studentloans.gov. You can obtain your FSA ID on the Federal Student Aid website.
Once you have your FSA ID, make an appointment with the College Now advisor in your school or with an advisor in the College Now Resource Center. An advisor will be able to walk you through every step of the process and make sure you are filling out the FAFSA completely and accurately.
Before your appointment, you’ll need to gather the materials you’ll need to fill out the FAFSA. This includes:
- Your Social Security Number
- Your Alien Registration Number (if you are not a U.S. citizen)
- Your federal income tax returns, W-2s, and other records of money earned. (Note: You may be able to transfer your federal tax return information into your FAFSA using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool.)
- Bank statements and records of investments (if applicable)
- Records of untaxed income (if applicable)
- Your FSA ID
Bring the materials listed above to your meeting with a College Now advisor, and you’ll be able to easily fill out the FAFSA and be on your way to receiving financial aid for your postsecondary journey!
There is a wealth of information on the FAFSA web page, but the process can still be challenging. College Now is here to help. Our services are always free.
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
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
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
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.