College Success

Posted on January 30, 2011
by FeliciaOctocog


In today’s (January 30, 2011) Sunday Boston Globe,  Lawrence Harmon wrote an Opinion piece entitled “The Transition Coach.”  This article talks about a Boston Foundation-funded program, Boston Success, that places college coaches into the community colleges to help students coming for Boston Public Schools navigate college. The goal of these programs is to improve college retention, particularly for students who are first in their family to go on to post-secondary education.

The article correctly pointed out that the real solution lies in fixing the high schools to assure students are more college ready. However, what the article does not point out are the many obstacles that have absolutely nothing to do with academics that throws roadblocks in front of these youth every year. Let me discuss a few.

First of all, those familiar with Salem Cyberspace will know that we have been providing these services for 3 years now  through our College Success program and are also seeing 90%+ retention rates so programs like these do work (other programs that provide college coaches include Bottom Line in Boston and Posse Foundation).

Lack of academic readiness is an issue and over 40% of Salem’s students who attend public colleges must take remedial classes in math and/or English.  Students requiring academic remediation are significantly more likely to drop out.  However other issues provide barriers to college completion:

1.       Finances – student s forget to reapply for the FAFSA funding; get behind on interest payments for non-subsidized Stafford Loans; can’t afford books, laptops or lab/art supplies.

2.       Working too many hours – often as a result of their finances, most urban college students at public colleges work and many work over 20 hours per week.  It is a vicious circle – they need the money to pay for transportation, books, etc but the hours interfere with student’s ability to study.  They fail more classes causing them to stay in school longer and pay more money. Also by being off campus more than on campus deprives these students of some of the real benefits of college living.  In fact, students who live on campus,  get more engaged in the college and tend to have much lower dropout rates. Many of our students must give money to their families to pay rent, put food on the table and most of our students have to pay for their own cell phones, transportation and daily living expenses.

3.       Health – we are finding our students do not have regular check-ups and do not hand in immunization records resulting in the colleges blocking their ability to register for classes.  For our female students, many have never been to a GYN.  In addition, MASS Health will drop dependents when they reach the age of 19 (not poor people did not benefit from the new Healthcare Reforms that allows children on private health plans to stay on their parents’ plans until  age 26).  We guide them through applying for either MassHealth or Commonwealth Connect as independents.

4.       Family stress – almost all of our students live at home. Homes lack quiet and private places to study and many of our students are required to provide care for younger siblings or cousins. This is in addition to the hours they work.  There can also be a lot of family drama that prevents students from being able to focus on school work.

I should also point out that most, if not all, public colleges have the taxpayer-funded federal TRIO programs which also provide the wrap-around social services and tutoring services that these college coaches provide. Unfortunately, there is much more need than there are TRIO counselors, and that why there is need for privately funded college coaches.

At Salem CyberSpace we work collaboratively with the TRIO counselors as well as Student Support Services. We also include the parents, if necessary, although once in college we do work very hard to get the students to work through their own problems with our guiding hand.

There is a need for more programs like this. With programs like Boston Success (Boston only) and Bottom Line (Boston and Worcester only), Boston students get a lot of services (although, I am sure many more coaches are needed).  But what about the smaller cities like Lynn, Salem, Gloucester, Brockton, Framingham, Lawrence, etc.?  There is woefully little funding for programs like these.

I want to thank the Amelia Peabody Foundation, the Tomfohrde Foundation, the City of Salem (through CDBG funds), the Settlement Partnership, the Norman Read Foundation and Clipper Ship  for providing funding for this program.  However, even with this funding the program is underfunded this year by $20,000.  This program is very important and we are committed to funding this program completely for this year and are talking to possible new funders.  If you know of anyone interested in college success programs, call Linda Saris at 978-740-6667.