Meet Our Alumni: Toccara Montgomery, A College Now Alum of Olympic Proportions
Since 1967, College Now has awarded $71 million in scholarships to students, and those scholarship recipients have gone on to achieve great things. As we celebrate College Now’s 50th Anniversary, we want to share some of those alumni stories with you. As the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics get underway, let’s look back at the story of our own Olympian, wrestler Toccara Montgomery. Although her athletic prowess helped advance her postsecondary studies, it was the extra financial help from College Now that closed Toccara’s funding gap and made matriculation to college possible.
Born in 1982, Toccara Montgomery grew up on the east side of Cleveland. Her path to the Olympics began to take shape after the conviction of her father for a double homicide in 1998. Toccara, a teenager who had a close relationship with her father, struggled to cope with the conviction.
“She buried herself more and more,” her mother, Tara, told Sports Illustrated in 2002. “She wasn’t hurting in school, wasn’t hurting socially, but she was hurting inside. She needed to just let it out.”
The way to let it out for Toccara, it turned out, was wrestling. As a sophomore at East Tech High School, Montgomery happened to one day hear an announcement that the wrestling team was looking for new students to join. Curious, Toccara made her way to the first practice, one of only five girls to do so. Immediately, Coach Kip Flanik recognized her talent, and pushed her to hone her abilities.
By early 1999, Toccara had won a silver medal at the girls’ nationals in Michigan. With the help of Coach Flanik, who assisted with her training costs and travel, Toccara went on to win her first national open title in 2000 as a senior at East Tech. It was at this same time that Toccara began to realize that wrestling could lead to college. However, while she knew attending college was now possible with athletic scholarships, she recognized there would still be additional costs, and turned to College Now – then the Cleveland Scholarship Programs – for help.
“[College Now] helped a lot,” she told Cleveland Magazine in 2004. “They helped me with books and spending money.”
With the help of her College Now advisor, Toccara applied for additional scholarships and was awarded an additional $1,000 per year for four years. With those funds making up her remaining balance, Toccara’s dream of attending college became a reality.
In 2001, Toccara began pursuing a degree in elementary education at University of the Cumberlands, where she wrestled for the Cumberland Patriots wrestling club. That same year, she joined the U.S. World Wrestling Team and became the first American to be named Women’s Wrestler of the Year by USA Wrestling. She achieved four U.S. junior and senior national titles between 2001 and 2004, obtained two Pan American Championship trophies in 2002 and 2003, won two silver medals at the 2001 and 2003 World Championships and took home a gold medal at the 2003 Pan American Games.
Continuing her domination in women’s wrestling, Toccara made the U.S. Women’s Wrestling Olympic Team in 2004, the first year that women’s wrestling was represented at the Games. Toccara placed seventh overall.
After the Olympics, Toccara returned to Cumberlands to complete her degree. She graduated in 2006 with her Bachelor’s degree in education. According to the Associated Wrestling Press, after her graduation, Toccara joined the coaching staff at the University of the Cumberlands, where she helped shape the program into one of national recognition.
In 2009, Toccara earned her master’s degree in instructional leadership from Cumberlands and accepted a position as head coach of the wrestling team at Lindenwood University. In 2017, Toccara announced in a Facebook post that she would be stepping away from wrestling, focusing instead on teaching kindergarten.
While her wrestling career has been illustrious and garnered her worldwide recognition, Toccara’s academic success should not be ignored. Prior to the 2004 Olympics, The New York Times published a profile on Toccara, and spoke to Coach Flanik, her high school wrestling coach.
“I want to see Toccara with a gold medal, but I will be more proud to see her be the first graduate from college in her family,” Flanik is quoted as saying in the piece by Thomas George. “If she goes to the Olympics and wins it all or if she goes and does nothing, she still has so much more to offer.”
Toccara is just one of the outstanding alumni who have received College Now scholarships and services. Continue to visit our blog in the coming months to read more about some of the unique and inspiring individuals who have come through our programs over the last 50 years.
Wow – has it been a busy start to the school year! In the past few months, our advisors have started back in their schools; we helped host Cleveland Goes to College with the Cleveland Metropolitan School District and the Higher Education Compact; we hosted our biggest bi-annual Bag Lady Luncheon to date; and we launched our 50th Anniversary! That’s right, we are celebrating College Now’s 50th birthday this year. We have an exciting year ahead of us, and we hope you will all join us for the ride!
We’ve been going through old files and photos, and we’re feeling a little nostalgic, so we thought we’d share that nostalgia with you. For this post, we’re going to take you all the way back to the beginning.
In 1967, six forward-thinking foundations donated $16,150 to College Now (then the Cleveland Scholarship Program, or CSP); that is equivalent to $118,000 in today’s dollars. This funding helped launch the pioneering work of helping Cleveland’s public school students gain access to college, and we are eternally grateful!
These earliest foundation funders of record are:
- Shirley & Robert C. Coplan Family Fund: $1,500 (equals $11,000 today)
- The Benjamin S. Gerson Family Foundation: $250 (equals $1,800 today)
- The George Gund Foundation: $7,500 (equals $55,000 today)
- The Hankins Foundation: $2,500 (equals $18,000 today)
- Kate Ireland Foundation: $2,400 (equals $17,500 today)
- The Perkins Charitable Foundation: $2,000 (equals $14,600 today)
With these funds, CSP became the first college access organization in the country, bringing an innovative college and career access advising model to Northeast Ohio students. This work was born out of the understanding that it takes more than just money to help low-income, first-generation students enroll in postsecondary programs – it takes creating a culture of “college knowledge” in school buildings and among students and families, which we found to be most successful when physically putting a college and career access advisor in schools.
We commend and thank these funders for their faith in our fledgling program in 1967 and for their ongoing generosity, leadership and tenacity; during the last 50 years, these six philanthropic organizations have contributed an astonishing combined total of $7.6 million.
These organizations, plus our many other generous partners, donors and community supporters, have helped College Now transform our college access model into the program that it is today. We have expanded to now serve students in more than 70 schools and community locations across four Northeast Ohio counties. Our audience has grown to encompass high school, college and adult-age students. Our menu of services has grown to include a robust mentoring program, services for students as young as middle school and loan counseling for students post-graduation, along with our traditional college and career access work.
As we continue into our 50th year, we sincerely hope that you will join us on this journey. Follow us on social media, where we will be posting interesting facts and 50th anniversary updates with the hashtag #CollegeNowAt50 – and share with us your own experiences with College Now (or CSP!) over the past 50 years. We’re excited to share our story, and we hope to hear yours.
Tips and Tricks to Ace the Fall ACT
As the school year approaches, standardized testing might be the last thing on your mind. You are worried about getting new school supplies, finding your classes for the coming year and hurrying to finish up the rest of your summer reading. You’re probably not thinking too much about how to prepare for the ACT test you’re signed up to take in the fall.
Regardless of your age (if you are an underclassman, a junior or a senior), the fall ACT test is an important milestone for you as you plan for your postsecondary journey. If you are a senior, this is likely the last time you can take the test before you begin sending off your college applications in the late fall and winter. Juniors and underclassmen, the fall is the perfect time to see where you stand in terms of your standardized test score; it gives you an idea of the areas on which you need to focus, and gives you ample time to take the appropriate measures necessary to achieve the score you want prior to the next test.
But we know that sometimes, as much as you prepare for your test beforehand (whether on your own or through some of our College Now afterschool test prep programs), you still get nervous when it’ time to take the test – and that’s okay! Here are some tips and tricks from our impACT team for ways to quickly prepare for the test. impACT is an after-school program that focuses on ACT preparation, which makes them great sources of wisdom for you.
- Relax the night before the test. Studying last minute may cloud what you already know.
- Remember that the ACT is, on the most basic level, an open-book test: everything you need to know and look for is going to be in your test booklet (English and math seem to be the exceptions though because there are concepts, rules, and equations that must be known. Make sure you start reviewing those now.).
- Eat breakfast before the test – it will be hard to concentrate on an empty stomach.
- If you’re running out of time to answer questions, we suggest guessing on what can’t be thoughtfully answered. Incorrect answers do not count against you; answers left blank can hurt because it could have been a potential correct answer if guessed.
- Write in the test booklet (underline words, draw math equations, draw graphs for science, etc.) to help understand what is being said or written.
Now, each different section of the ACT test has its own specific set of tips and tricks that you should remember when taking the test:
- English: Start by reading the selected sentence of the paragraph carefully and listen in your head for mistakes. The four most common errors are relationships between verb and subject; pronoun errors; sentence structure; and awkwardness, verbosity or incorrect use of idioms.
- Math: Mark up diagrams or sketch drawings for word problems. Focus more closely on the first 30 questions, because the questions gradually become more difficult. If you get stuck, try plugging in numbers and variables to find different ways to a correct answer.
- Reading: Use the three-stage method to get through as much of the reading passage as possible (preview passage, read passage, review passage). Focus on big ideas and look for connections among ideas. Take notes as you read to easily reference them when answering questions.
- Science: Use the same three-step method as reading. The science section is a reading section in disguise; when it comes down to it, all the science section is really just an interpretation of graphs.
If you want further help in preparing for the ACT, seek out your College Now Advisor or consider joining one of our afterschool or other community based programs. You’ll be surprised how much a few weeks of preparation can help you on the test and, with the tips and tricks above, you’ll be able to walk into your test feeling confident and prepared. Good luck!
Not registered for the fall ACT test? While it’s too late to sign up now, check out the list of upcoming test dates and register for the next test!
AmeriCorps College Guides and Career Coaches Program Currently Recruiting for 2017-2018 School Year – Apply Today!
AmeriCorps College Guides and Career Coaches Program Currently Recruiting for 2017-2018 School Year – Apply Today!
Figuring out how to prepare for and access a postsecondary credential isn’t easy, even for students who have family, friends or school supports in place to do so. For students without those helpful factors, the process is even more daunting – and can seem impossible. At College Now, we have advisors in high schools throughout Northeast Ohio who help high school students with the college-going process. However, these advisors cannot do it alone. Many high schools we serve have more students than our advisors can reach by themselves, which is where our AmeriCorps Ohio College Guides program comes in to play.
In 2009, College Now implemented the AmeriCorps Ohio College Guides program, which places fresh college graduates into middle schools, high schools and community centers to help guide traditionally underserved young people to prepare for, access and complete a postsecondary credential. Not only does College Now place these young professionals into schools within the Cleveland metro area, but also throughout the state of Ohio. Including Cleveland, College Now administrates the program for eight other host sites throughout the state: Canton, Cincinnati, Columbus, Jefferson, Marietta, Oberlin, Youngstown and Zanesville.
College Now is actively recruiting for recent graduates to serve students in these host sites! As an AmeriCorps College Guide, you will be instrumental in the work to ensure that students – especially typically underserved students (first-generation college-going, low-income and minority) – get the information and knowledge they need and deserve to make educated decisions and plans that can positively impact their future.
But the College Guides program doesn’t just help you give back to students – it also gives back to you! As an AmeriCorps College Guide, you will undergo significant training and receive valuable professional development, networking opportunities, guidance and support with career and graduate school goals. You will serve full-time (over 1,700 hours across 11 months), and, in return, receive a modest living allowance, health insurance and an Educational Award upon completion of the full-time commitment.
The College Guides is a program that is suitable for recent graduates from a variety of fields of study and with various career goals; it is a corps of driven and highly-qualified professionals getting their start in education. These are people to whom students can relate, confide in and eventually emulate as they plan for their futures and take constructive steps toward postsecondary education.
By working alongside our Advisors, the AmeriCorps College Guides allow College Now to bring services to a wider group of students and to ensure that all students who need support are receiving it. College Guides also help with afterschool programs for students to bring additional services to those who need them most.
College Now also recently implemented a new AmeriCorps program in Cleveland schools, the AmeriCorps Career Coaches program. Like College Guides, Career Coaches work with College Now advisors to ensure that students are receiving the proper support and guidance in determining their postsecondary pathway. The Career Coaches, however, have a more focused approach with the students they serve. Career Coaches are placed in five Cleveland Metropolitan School District career academies and ensure that freshmen and sophomore students specifically are introduced to postsecondary educational paths that will lead them to the region’s in-demand careers early in high school. As the early high school years are pivotal for student success, it is imperative that students receive the extra guidance and support necessary to facilitate a smooth transition.
Just like the College Guides, Career Coaches receive a modest living allowance, health insurance and an Educational Award upon completion of the full-time commitment (over 1,700 hours worked across 11 months), as well as undergo significant training and receive valuable professional development, networking, guidance and support with career and graduate school goals.
If you are interested in becoming either an AmeriCorps College Guide, in Cleveland or one of the other eight locations in Ohio, or AmeriCorps Career Coach, visit our website at https://www.collegenowgc.org/get-involved/ and click either “AmeriCorps College Guides” or “AmeriCorps Career Coaches” at the bottom of the page. Scroll down and click the “Apply Now” link for instructions on applying. If you have any questions, you can contact Bridget McFadden at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Some of our AmeriCorps members have blogged about their experiences in the program, giving a valuable first-hand account of the responsibilities, challenges, benefits and rewarding nature of being in the Corps.
Cleveland Takes Next Steps to Be Considered for Say Yes to Education
College Now is proud to be part of the exploratory group working to bring Say Yes to Cleveland.
The bold promise of Say Yes is to bring together an entire community to ensure each of its children has the opportunity – and the support – to go to college. Using last-in-dollar scholarships as a catalyst, Say Yes partners with communities to create systems intended to help every child progress along the pathway to post-secondary success.
Partners from the public, philanthropic, non-profit and private sectors are working together over the next 12 to 18 months on the complex path required for consideration by Say Yes.
We’re also glad for the ongoing support and encouragement from the Say Yes team. As Say Yes COO Eugene Chasin says, “It’s clear to the senior leadership of Say Yes that Cleveland is a community with a fierce desire to give its young people access to higher education, armed with the support to succeed in obtaining a college degree or other postsecondary credential.”
At College Now, we believe that Say Yes would be a game-changer for many of the students we serve, freeing them from much of the worry about how their families will finance the gap between the cost of postsecondary education and what they can afford to pay for it. Additionally, the wraparound services that Say Yes would provide for students will allow them to focus more on academics and give them the tools they need to persist to high school and postsecondary completion.
In the coming months, our work includes:
- Determining the parameters and criteria to provide last-dollar tuition scholarships to qualifying students admitted to an in-state public college or university
- Establishing a local fundraising committee and raising a significant portion of the scholarship fund as part of the approval process
- Identifying the necessary in-school and out-of-school supports and services and related public and philanthropic funding sources to meet the development needs of every child
If Say Yes ultimately approves Cleveland’s application, the organization would commit to invest $15 million in the community over six years, as various milestones are achieved. Those funds are not intended to be used to pay for scholarships. Rather, they would help to finance the scaffolding of a communitywide governance structure to manage the local Say Yes partnership and to seed student and family supports that, in other Say Yes communities, have included school-based social work; mental and physical health services; legal services; college and career counseling; tutoring, and robust after-school and summer enrichment programs.
College Now is a member of the Cleveland exploratory group along with the City of Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, Cleveland Metropolitan School District, Cleveland Foundation, and United Way of Greater Cleveland.
Be Someone Who Matters to Someone Who Matters: Mentor!
Imagine you are back in your senior year of high school, getting ready to go off to college for the first time. Regardless of where you grew up or where you were going to college, chances are you were pretty nervous, right?
Many of our College Now scholarship recipients feel the same way about going to college. For some, it may be their first time away from home. For all, it’s a new environment – academically, socially and emotionally – that they have not experienced before. And, for many of our scholarship recipients, they are the first ones in their families to pursue postsecondary education.
For a student graduating from high school and going to college without a parent, guardian, sibling or other relative to turn to for advice, the undertaking can be especially daunting. With this in mind, College Now launched a Mentoring Program in 2011 pairing our scholarship recipients with a professional mentor from the community who will stick with that student throughout their college career. In the first two years of the relationship, mentors provide crucial college-going advice to students. As students become upperclassmen and begin looking at life beyond college, mentors also provide professional connections and assistance to help students transition into the working world.
Growing from a small cohort of 50 pairs to now matching all College Now scholarship recipients (about 350 per year) with a mentor, the College Now Mentoring Program has quickly become a hallmark of our work. Currently, 1,200 community members volunteer as mentors for our scholarship recipients – but we still need more.
As another school year ends, we need to recruit 100 more mentors to match with our incoming class of scholarship recipients. The Mentoring Program will match mentors with students based on the postsecondary degree or program the student is pursuing, hobbies and interests and high schools and colleges attended.
Mentoring a college student for four years sounds like a big time commitment. However, College Now recognizes that both mentors and mentees have other obligations and, as such, has developed a robust online platform to help eliminate common mentoring concerns, such as time and physical location. Mentors and mentees are required to communicate on the online platform, Chronus, once a month at minimum, and are only required to meet in person three times a year – conveniently, College Now hosts mentoring program events throughout the year that bring mentors and mentees together, helping pairs meet that in-person time commitment. Of course, many of our mentor/mentee pairs go above and beyond this communication requirement, calling or texting on a more regular basis and meeting in-person more frequently.
The impact of the Mentoring Program is evident – in our first three years of mentoring, first- to second-year retention rates improved to 94 percent! This is an outstanding retention rate, and it puts College Now’s scholarship recipients on a path to 80 percent completion, the rate at which students from the highest income quartile complete college. This is a testament to the dedication of our mentors.
And, while statistics are impressive, it’s the stories of the program’s impact that truly show why mentoring is such a vital aspect of our students’ successes:
“Megan’s and my relationship is going great! She is so mature and responsible for her age and has a very bright future ahead of her. I’m proud of all of her accomplishments thus far. I find our relationship to be mutually beneficial and I hope she’s learning as much from me as I am from her. I know I’ve enjoyed my time interacting with her and getting to know her.” -Kelly (Mentor)
“Courtney is so supportive in everything I do and tries to offer me the best advice that she can. I believe it was a great match for the both of us, especially since we share the passion of art, and a passion for OSU.” –Taenyshia (Mentee)
“College Now has given me the opportunity to make a professional connection with someone in my field of study. This organization has allowed me to get more insight into what I want to do and I’m eternally grateful.” -Charles (Mentee)
“Devonna is great – such a bright and enthusiastic woman…..During our most recent exchange she did mention that she thinks we are a perfect match, with which I wholeheartedly agree! There are several similarities in how we think about our impact on the world and how we go about creating this impact which makes our mentor/mentee relationship a great deal of fun and even more meaningful.” -Charity (Mentor)
If you are interested in becoming a mentor with College Now, please visit our website. You can contact Madeline Rife, Mentoring Program Manager, with any questions or concerns at 216.635.1063 or email@example.com.
Be someone who matters to someone who matters. Become part of the College Now Mentoring Program today.
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!
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
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:
- According to the Pell Institute, the Pell Grant has helped over 60 million students pursue higher education since its inception.
- According to the National College Access Network (NCAN), nearly 8 million students (or one-third of all college undergraduates) benefitted from the Pell Grant in 2015-16.
- The Institute for College Access and Success estimates that 60 percent of African American and 50 percent of Hispanic undergraduates benefit from the Pell Grant.
- The College Board reports that despite the fact that the allocation for the Pell Grant nearly doubled between 2008 and 2015 to $30.3 billion, its purchasing power has diminished as the cost of tuition outpaces the inflation rate. According to a study by the Pell Institute, in 1975-76, the Pell Grant covered 67 percent of college tuition; in 2012-13, the Pell Grant covered 27 percent.
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
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.
- Take the ACT or SAT one more time if you need to. Why? Because higher scores mean more financial aid at many schools. Don’t leave money on the table. Brush up on your vocabulary and math, take the test one more time and send the scores to your schools. It can save you thousands of dollars in the long run!
- Finalize your list of schools and, if you haven’t already, plan to visit them! Now is the time to get organized. Do some soul-searching about which schools are the best fit for you academically, socially, financially, etc. And, if you haven’t seen all of them in person yet, do your best to try. Having an opportunity to physically be on campus is an important experience and will help you make a good decision.
- If you can’t get to campus (and even if you can), try to find some students to talk to about their experience. Students who graduated from your high school or students who are majoring in what you intend to study are great resources about what college life is really like both in general and on that campus.
- Complete the FAFSA. We cannot stress this enough. COMPLETE THE FAFSA! The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the gateway to financial aid. Nearly all types of financial aid – both need- and merit-based – are awarded to students who complete the FAFSA. Even if you think you don’t qualify, COMPLETE THE FAFSA! The FAFSA opened on October 1 for the first time this year so schools can award financial aid earlier and students can make better decisions. Read more about this change in our previous blog post.
- Apply to the colleges on your list. There are many ways to do so. Many schools accept the Common App, making it easy to apply to a number of schools with one application. You can also apply Early Decision or Early Action, programs that allow you to receive an admissions decision earlier in the process. Our most recent blog broke down these options. Check it out for more information.
- Register with the NCAA Clearinghouse if you plan on participating in collegiate athletics. This is important for a few reasons. First and foremost, the Clearinghouse audits student athletes’ transcripts to ensure they are eligible to play at the collegiate level. Second, the Clearinghouse is where college coaches find eligible student athletes.
- Request your transcripts and recommendations. All college applications require these, and each school (high schools and colleges alike) has different policies for requesting and receiving transcripts and recommendations, so make sure you carefully follow the policies outlined by your schools!
- Apply for scholarships. We know you just worked really hard to get your college applications completed and submitted, but you aren’t finished yet! Spend a couple of weeks working on scholarship applications. Yes, you’ll have to write a few more essays now, but it could mean writing fewer student loan repayment checks after you graduate! We update a number of external scholarship databases on our web site at least once a month. Start there!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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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:
- Students can complete the college application process and know exactly where they’ll be going to school the next year by Winter Break.
- Students still have time to apply to other schools if they are not accepted early decision.
The Cons of Early Decision:
- Because early decision is binding, students can only apply to one school that way; every other application must be submitted through the traditional admissions process.
- Also, because the student has to commit if accepted, the student has little leverage in terms of negotiating financial aid packages based on what he or she received from other schools. However, if the cost of attending is prohibitive even after applying all financial aid, a student can de-commit.
- Not all schools have an early decision program.
- Despite popular belief, applying early decision does not increase chances of being accepted.
The Pros of Early Action:
- Depending on what schools they apply to, students can complete multiple early action applications and can learn whether or not they’ve been accepted sooner than they would through the traditional process.
- Students still have time to apply to other schools if they are not accepted early action.
- Students are not bound to enroll in the school if they are accepted. They have until the May 1 enrollment deadline, allowing them the chance to hear from all of the schools to which they applied about admission and financial aid.
Cons of Early Action:
- Not all schools have an early action program; and like early decision, applying early action does not increase the odds of acceptance. Beyond that, really, there aren’t any cons. Early action allows students to get college applications out of the way and hear if they’ve been accepted earlier in the process without the pressure of being locked in to enrolling if accepted like in early decision.
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:
- Have done a lot of research on colleges and feel confident that the school(s) to which they are applying are the right fit academically, financially, socially, etc. Again, this is particularly important for applying early decision, as the student is locked in to enrolling and has to accept the financial aid package offered if accepted.
- Have had strong academic performance throughout high school and academic credentials that meet or exceed the minimums for the schools to which they’re applying.
Early decision and early action programs are NOT great for students who:
- Are not confident the school(s) to which they’re applying are the right fit.
- Want to have flexibility in comparing financial aid packages.
- Need to use the fall semester of senior year to bring up their GPA or ACT/SAT scores.
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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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.