Black Lives Matter: We Stand with Our Community in Declaring Racism a Public Health Crisis

Black Lives Matter: We Stand with Our Community in Declaring Racism a Public Health Crisis

The statement below was shared with the College Now community on June 9, 2020. For a list of anti-racist resources and supports organized by College Now staff, please continue scrolling to the bottom of this message.

College Now Greater Cleveland joins the voices of the community in Cleveland and in cities around the world expressing anger and indignation over the murder of George Floyd and the numerous other Black and brown people killed at the hands of police. We condemn all forms of institutional racism in the strongest possible terms.

We are proud to join the Greater Cleveland Partnership and over 20 local organizations in declaring racism a public health crisis in Cleveland and committing to take action to undo the structural racism present in our community. You can read the full statement of community commitment on the Greater Cleveland Partnership’s website.

College Now was founded in 1967, the same year that Cleveland elected Carl Stokes, the first Black mayor of a major U.S. city, and the year that Martin Luther King, Jr. announced the Poor People’s Campaign, a movement to bring economic justice to the poor and disenfranchised of America, regardless of race, ethnicity, or religion. It is with heavy hearts that we reflect on the last 53 years of our existence and recognize that so many societal problems continue to plague our community since we first opened our doors to help Cleveland public school students go to college.

College Now works to overcome racial inequalities by ensuring equal access in education, which is a key factor in creating an equitable society. To America’s first Hispanic and Latina Supreme Court Justice, Sonia Sotomayor, education means equality. She said, “Until we get equality in education, we won’t have an equal society.” To American hero, former slave, and famed abolitionist Frederick Douglass, education meant opportunity. He said, “Some know the value of education by having it. I know its value by not having it.”

We must acknowledge that, due to our country’s 400-year history of marginalizing Black people, racial disparities exist at every point along the higher education pipeline, from the application process to degree completion. Research has shown that segregation is a contributing factor to disparities in college completion rates. Furthermore, financial and social resources, which are impacted by racial and social inequalities, also have a major impact on enrollment and completion.

College Now recognizes that it is not enough to simply be “not racist.” We must be anti-racist. We must call out racism when we see it, even when it is implicit, and we must recognize that racism is not a problem to which Black people must figure out solutions. It is a problem that must be addressed individually and systemically by all of us.

Here at College Now, we have been talking and learning about issues related to diversity, equity, and inclusion more intensively over the past few years. We recognize, while we may not always have lived up to it, we have an important role to play, as access to education is one of the keys to social and economic mobility in the U.S., and because the communities we serve and work with are directly affected by systemic racism every day.

College Now will continue to listen to and to support Black people, and we will use our platform to bring systemic change so our society can fully realize equality and justice for all. Black lives matter.

In love, anger, justice, and hope,

Lee Friedman
CEO, College Now Greater Cleveland

Anti-Racist Resources and Support Links
Updated: June 13, 2020 

The following list has been compiled and continues to be updated by College Now staff. We encourage you to take some time to explore the below resources and to share widely. This is work we all need to do and to truly commit to doing. It is a lifelong process and one that we all must take personal responsibility for. Thank you for joining us in this work – you are helping to make our organization and our community a more just and equitable place.  

Resources for White Allies

Discover your Baseline 

Lists and Compilations 

Articles and Interviews 

Films and Series 

Podcast and Radio 

Books 

Non-fiction 

Fiction 

Children and Young Adult 

Social Media 

Support Resources for People of Color

Everyone 

Student-Focused 

Resources for Educators 

Call to Action 

Get Involved 

Donate 

A Letter to the Class of 2020

A Letter to the Class of 2020

The College Now team has the honor of working with students during some of the most exciting moments of their lives. From watching joy emerge on a high school senior’s face as they open their first acceptance letter to cheering on college graduates as they walk across the stage, our staff often has a front-row seat in celebrating these hard-earned moments. It is a privilege we do not take for granted.

That’s why, as the COVID-19 Pandemic continues, our hearts go out to all students – particularly high school and college seniors in the class of 2020.

Recently, many of the typical rights-of-passage in young adult lives – prom, graduation, senior traditions, and more – have been uprooted, leaving students disappointed, stressed, and concerned for their futures. As an organization, we understand and empathize with the experiences that students across the world are going through. It can be very difficult to work so hard toward something and to not be able to celebrate in the way you had always imagined. On top of this disappointment, we know that many folks are also occupied with worry over meeting their family’s basic needs and maintaining good health.

We want to remind our students of this: We see you. We hear you. We celebrate you. And we are still right here with you.

To our College Now seniors – both in high school and college – we know many of you have been looking forward to enjoying the rewards of your hard work for quite some time. Perhaps you had your prom attire already picked out, your commencement speech written, or a graduation party already planned. While it is certainly difficult to come to terms with the fact that the end of your high school or college career looks a lot different than you probably anticipated, no one can take away the fact that you have earned the accomplishment of graduating.

Your hard work has not gone wasted. Your dreams are still there for you to chase.

As you go into the final weeks of your schooling, College Now recognizes the many distractions and challenges that you are facing. Perhaps you are helping take care of younger siblings while also trying to complete your schoolwork. Perhaps you’re worried about having access to internet and other utilities. Or maybe you’re concerned about entering an uncertain job market in just a few short weeks.

All these hurdles are not insignificant; however, they are not impossible to overcome. College Now wants to support and encourage you in any ways that we possibly can. Our team is still here to help you navigate this time in your life and to keep you on track toward reaching your goals. Do not give up! We encourage you to take care of yourselves as best as you can and to ask for help while continuing to keep your post-graduation goals in sight.

This is a significant and difficult time in the world, but there will come a time when we begin to talk about this pandemic as a marker in history, and no longer the present. When that time comes, we want you to be prepared to thrive in your postsecondary and career goals.

So, to celebrate you and all the accomplishments you and your classmates have achieved, here are some words of wisdom and congratulations from some of our College Now team:

From Lee Friedman, CEO of College Now Greater Cleveland:

Congratulations to the Class of 2020 on your graduation – though I know this isn’t what any of you expected when you began your senior year. College Now is thrilled for you as you move into the next phase of your life, and we know that the resiliency, strength, and adaptability you have shown at the end of this school year will serve you well throughout the rest of your lives. We are honored to have played a part in your education so far and wish you nothing but the best in your futures. We look forward to learning of all your successes.

From Anna, Team Mentor

Congratulations on completing your high school education!  You should feel very proud of your hard work and determination.  Graduating from high school is an important accomplishment, and it is an especially huge feat during such a challenging time.  The perseverance you have shown this semester is a testament to your ability to overcome whatever hurdles you may face.  No matter what comes next, know that you can pursue your dreams.  We wish you all the best for your continued success and look forward to seeing what you accomplish!

From Jasmine, Team Mentor

The long nights, the early days, the finals, and the games… Your mentor, your memories, I hope you hold on to them dearly.

Congratulations to our Seniors who are graduating from college! You are all a part of amazing history, and have managed to persevere during challenging times. You have all worked so hard, and now it’s time to celebrate!  I’m so proud of you all, and I know your mentors are too! You are the reason we’re able to have a successful program. College Now is always here if you need us. I know that you will do amazing things in life, and wish you the best in your future endeavors. Cheers to you all! – Jasmine on behalf of Team Mentor

From Cynthia, Manager of IT and Data Services, who says, “My best words [for this year’s graduating class] are someone else’s:”

It Couldn’t be Done – Edgar Guest

Somebody said that it couldn’t be done,

     But he with a chuckle replied

That “maybe it couldn’t,” but he would be one

     Who wouldn’t say so till he’d tried.

So he buckled right in with the trace of a grin

     On his face. If he worried he hid it.

He started to sing as he tackled the thing

     That couldn’t be done, and he did it.

 

Somebody scoffed: “Oh, you’ll never do that;

     At least no one ever has done it”;

But he took off his coat and he took off his hat,

     And the first thing we knew he’d begun it.

With a lift of his chin and a bit of a grin,

     Without any doubting or quiddit,

He started to sing as he tackled the thing

     That couldn’t be done, and he did it.

 

There are thousands to tell you it cannot be done,

     There are thousands to prophesy failure;

There are thousands to point out to you one by one,

     The dangers that wait to assail you.

But just buckle in with a bit of a grin,

     Just take off your coat and go to it;

Just start in to sing as you tackle the thing

     That “cannot be done,” and you’ll do it.

From Cathy, Manager, GEAR UP Parma:

Congratulations! You’ve come this far, just remember don’t give up trying to do what you really want to do.

From Tonya, Adult Programs Specialist:

2020 Seniors…I admire you.  I admire you not only for what you have been through but for the way you have handled yourselves during this most difficult time.  No one expected that this would happen during your senior year.  The pain you feel, the frustration you have, and the sense of helplessness that you are experiencing are being felt across our entire country and the globe by millions of students in the same situation.

 As bleak as all of this seems, I want to remind you of what great people do.  Great people, in any walk of life, try to make the best of a bad situation.  Eventually, after all of the frustration and despair, great people begin to see all those lemons for the sweetness they can yield (lemonade) instead of the sourness they initially represent. 

Great people begin to think about how they can learn from what they are experiencing.   Thus,  I hope you learn some valuable lessons from these last five weeks.  I hope you have learned how important family is, how important your parents are, how important school is, how important teachers are, and how extraordinary ordinary people can be.  Grocery store workers, mail carriers, doctors, nurses, teachers, sanitation workers, electrical workers, and food service employees have all sacrificed tremendously to make things better for the rest of us.  I hope you learn that all of us can be extraordinary if we truly want to be.

To the class of 2020, College Now congratulates you on all your achievements! We are proud of all of our graduating seniors. We hope that you are finding ways to celebrate with your families and loved ones in unique and safe ways, and we look forward to seeing what your future holds.

Innovation with Excellence: A Look Inside College Now’s Organizational Culture

Innovation with Excellence: A Look Inside College Now’s Organizational Culture

What keeps College Now’s 180+ employees focused and happy in their work? Lee Friedman, CEO of College Now, shares her insights about leading a growing, innovative non-profit addressing educational inequities in Northeast Ohio: 

When you were approached about joining College Now as its CEO in 2010, what made you want the job? 

 It was because I’d spent such a long time in community economic development and saw the social inequity and disparity caused by the ‘haves and have-nots’ in education. I realized that the only way to create social equity — and also long-term economic health for our region — was to ensure that everybody had the opportunity to get a postsecondary credential.  

How would you describe your leadership style?  

I see myself as a strong stage-setter, but I like to create a collaborative, highly empowered team. I think people that like working for me are extraordinarily driven by excellence – they have a huge commitment to mission, they’re self-starters, but they also ‘play well with others’.

What are College Now’s best assets in terms of organizational culture?  

I think this is a very supportive place to work. I think there is a high ethos around balancing career and family, friends, or other outside interests — sort of with the caveat that people put their work in an important enough place that the work is delivered with excellence. It’s not very difficult for a CEO to be flexible and try to support people’s other life if the work is great. It’s when the work isn’t great that it gets hard because then something’s being sacrificed. I think here, remarkably, considering it’s a large organization, those are really the kind of people that enjoy it and thrive here… I think that’s a big part of what we’re offering.  

How does College Now support the professional growth and development of its employees?  

We do that in many ways depending on the position. On our advising side, there are constant advising meetings and a lot of that is around skill-building and problem-solving. Our HR folks and professional development committee try to make sure that we’ve got things that match all the different parts of our employee population, especially because we have a lot of diversity of people that work here, in terms of their experience and their age, etc. We’ve certainly sent people to different kinds of training, whether its leadership training or skill-building. We do our best to try and make sure that people have what they need, but we kind of juxtapose it with the fact that we have a small budget for that sort of thing. Being missiondriven, it’s not like working for some big for-profit company where you can send people to those fancy trainings and leadership camps – we just can’t do it. But we do our best.  

What makes you most proud of your team?  

For me, and I hope the team feels this way, it’s a happy place to come to work every day. You spend a lot of time here [compared to] when you think about how much time you spend sleeping or your other time. It’s happy, I think, because we try to hire the most responsible, committed, and collaborative people. I think when people feel they can have some control over what they do in their every day, and that they’re well supported, well treated, and don’t have to be afraid of making a mistake — because everyone makes mistakes –I think that creates a happy culture.  

College Now has a strong track record of retaining talent. What common characteristics do successful, long-standing employees demonstrate?  

A real commitment to the mission and the organization, and commitment to their own excellence. Driving the extra mile to make sure the work is as good as it possibly can be. [Understanding] that we’re customer/client-first, especially because we do so much public-facing work – everything from our students and their parents, to other educators and school administrators, funders, Board members, community leaders, and other nonprofits; people with that same point of view and [those who] are the best kind of communicators and collaborators.  

College Now was the first organization of its kind in the country. How do you maintain a culture of innovation to keep College Now at the forefront of college access?   

Honestly, you have to reward it. And you have to instill it. You can’t rest on, ‘Well, we haven’t done it that way in the past.’ We’ve grown quite a bit in the last number of years and a lot of that is because people around the table – and I mean that in the biggest way – when they have new ideas, people listen to them. It doesn’t mean you can implement every new ideaand it doesn’t even mean that some of them that don’t get implemented are bad ideas, it just may not be practical right now. But you have to really emphasize innovation and you have to reward it in the culture.  

College Now has a team in its downtown Cleveland headquarters, as well as a team of Advisors who work primarily within schools across Northeast Ohio. How does College Now maintain a culture of collaboration and inclusion within an organization that provides services in 185 venues?  

Honestly, it’s not the easiest thing in the world to do. Because, you have to remember, when somebody goes to one or two buildings every day and never comes downtown, in some part, most of their experience is in that building. The culture of that building will have a huge effect on the way they view their job. And sometimes that’s a good thing and sometimes its been a very difficult thing. [In the advising department], they have ongoing monthly meetings to bring everybody together to get back on the same page, to address concerns, to provide additional training, leadershipinformation, and news, and I think that’s crucial. It is one of the more interesting challenges because coming to the downtown office every day is an entirely different experience than going to one of the high schools or a library every day.  

How does College Now’s work address economic inequality? How are its employees positively impacting the greater Cleveland community?  

Research shows that people with varying levels of postsecondary attainment make more money during their lifetime [than those without postsecondary education]. What we know is that Northeast Ohio is woefully underattained. There are many open jobs and many people who are either unemployed and/or undereducated for those open jobs. And so, there are other communities that do a better job of it for whatever reason. Maybe it’s a cultural thing. [Cleveland] was a bluecollar manufacturing community, and that takes generations to change sometimes. Ohio is the 7th largest state, but we’re 36th in educational attainment and that is not a great recipe for long-term economic health. And so, to the extent that we can work with the students, communities, and adults we serve and get them on a postsecondary track, it not only helps them personally and changes the trajectory of their own life and their family life, but it changes the collective economic picture.  

What is your vision for College Now in the next 5 to 10 years?  

A lot of it is just continuing to grow and refine the work. Say Yes to Education is a six-year ramp up and we’re in year oneI don’t think that changes everything but that’s a good amount of runway to start changing the hope for young people in CMSD to be able to go to postsecondary or get on a solid career path. The implementation of Say Yes Cleveland is a piece of it.  

I also think the expanding work we’re doing with adults is a very big piece of it. I think Julie Szeltner [Senior Director of Adult Programs and Services] has done a great job of trying to grow that piece of our business. Theres roughly 500,000 people in Cuyahoga County that either have some college and no degree or a high school diploma and nothing else. There’s a big opportunity there. You almost can’t solve the workforce gap on the backs of 18year olds, you almost have to go to the adults.  

I think the other big piece is us refining our ability to lead kids from education to career. If you’re going to stop at the end of high school and go do something, let’s get better about helping you think through those options, with the hope that most everybody takes some kind of postsecondary option. If we can get better at showing you what all your options are, you might be able to make a better choice as you maneuver through and understand what the consequences will be, like, “How much postsecondary education will I need? How much income can I expect to make? Whats the demand in this region for that job? That’s another really important piece of the work that we’ll be doing with partners.  

 

*This interview has been edited lightly for clarity and length* 

College Now Interns on the Issues: Part 2

College Now Interns on the Issues: Part 2

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

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

On their student-loan debt: 

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

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

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

On the need for increase postsecondary attainment in Ohio:

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

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

On the need for affordable postsecondary options:

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

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

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

On simplifying college access:

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

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

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

 

Focusing on Adult Learners to Meet Workforce Needs

Focusing on Adult Learners to Meet Workforce Needs

At College Now, we have long been known for working with traditional students on their paths to postsecondary attainment. However, we have also developed a robust program to help another population that needs our services – adult learners.

An adult learner, according to College Now, is anyone 19 or older who has had their education interrupted for one year or more. And, in northeast Ohio, these are the individuals who can help change our community by taking the next step in their postsecondary journeys.

Currently, northeast Ohio employers have openings for skilled workers – but not enough people are obtaining the degrees or credentials to meet employers’ needs. Beyond the immediate needs, of course, is the fact that, by 2020, over 60% of jobs will require some kind of postsecondary credential.

The 440,000 adults in Cuyahoga County ages 25 and over whose highest level of educational attainment is a high school credential or “some college, no degree,” are a critical piece to the educational attainment puzzle and probably have 440,000 different situations that have kept them from pursuing that continued education. These adults are parents, or children of elderly parents. They have houses to maintain and bills to pay. Some may even have student loan or other debt from previous attempts to complete a degree.

Most of these adults are employed, though many may not be earning a living wage (which, in Northeast Ohio, is $21/hour to support one adult and one child [Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Living Wage Calculator, 2016]). As you can see in the graphic below, an employee cannot reach that living wage without a bachelor’s degree.

Of course, it isn’t always easy to reach that living wage threshold if you’ve been out of the postsecondary game for a while. The idea of going back to school may be daunting, and many adults may not relish the idea of being in a program with older teenagers. However, what you might think of as the “average” college student isn’t so average anymore, and adults returning to school are becoming more and more common in recent years. In 2011, The Atlantic reported that thirty-eight percent of undergraduates were over the age of 25 and one-fourth were over the age of 30. Further, the number of students who are over age 25 is projected to increase another twenty-three percent by 2019.

At College Now, we know that assimilating into higher education can be challenging for adults. That’s why we have advisors who are uniquely trained to help adult learners find the school and program that is the right fit for them individually. We work with adults to determine what sort of degree or credential they need to obtain a job in the field they desire. We understand that there is not a “one-size fits all” model for our work with adults, and we are prepared to understand what exactly they need to take the next step toward educational attainment.

We also understand that funding is often a concern for adults going back to school – whether it’s how to make school fit into a current budget, or how to work student loans into a future financial plan. Our Adult Learner Scholarship has a rolling application and is open to adults 19 and over who have discontinued their education for more than one year and are residents of the following Northeast Ohio Counties: Ashtabula, Cuyahoga, Geauga, Lake, Lorain, Mahoning, Medina, Portage, Stark, Summit or Trumbull. More information can be found on our website.

Additionally, College Now helps adults get their finances in order after graduation with student loan counseling. Our advisors help students decide which repayment plan best fits their budget, and can help lower monthly payments to make loan debt affordable.

Increasing educational attainment among adults is not just a “nice” thing to do. It is imperative to our local economy that more residents obtain degrees that will qualify them to fill the present and future jobs. The positive effects that increased educational attainment can have on a community are numerous. Cuyahoga County’s economic health depends on educational attainment being a top priority for the community’s working adults.

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