Bag Lady 2019: The Curious Connection Between Handbags and College Access
On September 12th, nearly 600 guests gathered at the Great Lakes Science Center for College Now’s fourth Bag Lady event, a biennial silent auction that supports the organization’s Mentoring Program.
Since 2011, College Now has paired volunteers from the business community with students who receive a College Now scholarship. Mentors and mentees build a relationship throughout the student’s college career, though many pairs stay connected far beyond graduation.
The Mentoring Program is critical to College Now’s work in helping students stay in college to see their degree through to completion. With the added layer of support from a mentor, 92% of College Now mentees return to college after their first year, in contrast to the national average of 74%.
With the arrival of Say Yes Cleveland, the Mentoring Program has grown dramatically this past year. Among the four national Say Yes chapters, Cleveland is the only site committed to pairing every Say Yes Scholarship recipient with a mentor, which College Now facilitates while continuing to maintain services for traditional College Now scholarship recipients.
Bag Lady’s goal is to help sustain and grow the Mentoring Program’s services, and College Now is proud to share that this year’s event raised over $400,000 for the program. While guests enjoy the opportunity to browse and bid on Bag Lady’s auction items, it’s important to College Now that attendees leave with more than an exciting addition to their closet.
To center the organization’s mission at the core of Bag Lady, this year guests were fortunate to hear from two College Now alumnae, Leah Hudnall and Shelby Roberts, who spoke about their postsecondary journeys with College Now, moderated by the illustrious Margot Copeland, formerly of KeyBank and the KeyBank Foundation.
Shelby, a recent graduate of Cleveland State University’s Washkewicz College of Engineering, shared her story of perseverance and the resources she leaned on, like College Now, while transferring schools and remaining enrolled during the loss of a close family member. Leah, a Howard University alumna, inspired attendees while speaking about intentionally remaining tied to Cleveland while she was away at school because resources like College Now were critical to her postsecondary success.
Both young women have now launched careers in northeast Ohio. Shelby works as a Transportation Engineer for Mott MacDonald and is pursuing her Masters of Civil and Environmental Engineering from Cleveland State University. Leah, who completed her Master of Arts in Nonprofit Administration from John Carroll University in 2015, currently serves as a Program Officer at Saint Luke’s Foundation.
College Now is extremely grateful to these remarkable young women for sharing their stories and for their help in educating Bag Lady guests and the greater Cleveland community about why College Now’s services are important to a student’s postsecondary success.
Bag Lady is a unique and exciting opportunity for College Now to garner support for the organization’s work, but as the 2019 event buzz dwindles, we know that the most important work will only continue to accelerate.
As Say Yes Cleveland services become embedded throughout the entire Cleveland Metropolitan School District over the course of the next few years, more students will receive scholarships and enter College Now’s Mentoring Program, which means the need for mentors is more pertinent now than ever.
College Now is excited to launch recruitment efforts later this fall to build up the next class of mentors who will play a crucial role in supporting future college students. We hope you’ll consider volunteering as a mentor or help us to spread the word among your networks as we look forward to the growth of the Mentoring Program.
If you have questions or are interested in becoming a mentor, please contact Madeline Rife, Director of the Mentoring Program, at email@example.com, or visit www.collegenowgc.org/become-a-mentor/.
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
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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