Bottom Line students at the Share The Dream Banquet, Feb 2013

Bottom Line students at the “Share The Dream” banquet, February 2013

This past February, I had the privilege of attending the annual “Share the Dream” banquet for students in the College Now/START program at UMass Dartmouth. Carol Spencer, Director of College Now Program, said that it is held every year to, “celebrate the success of the College Now/START Program.” The first-years are “officially welcomed into the University by receiving a certificate acknowledging their completion of the program.”   Staff say that, “The Banquet is a wonderful way to celebrate and empower our students to continue striving.”

College Now/START is an alternative admissions program that supports students throughout their first year of college, by providing additional academic support and mentoring. Many Bottom Line students are enrolled in this program and have begun to see the benefits of taking a reduced course load and attending extra tutoring hours their first two semesters of college. There are currently 30 first-year students from Bottom Line in College Now/START Program, and 52 Bottom Line students have participated since 2009.

My student, Etiene, was asked to be one of two current College Now students who gave a speech at the banquet. In the days leading up to the event, he said that he was nervous and yet his speech was ready, thanks to the support of his College Now advisors and the Writing Center. At the “Share the Dream” banquet, Etiene brought the crowd of students, parents, faculty, administrators, and supporters to their feet! I could not have been more proud of him and was truly moved by his speech.  Etiene was also awarded a $3,000 Talent-Merit Scholarship from College Now.  It was a testament to his hard work this past semester.

Etiene, as he gives his speech at the Share The Dream Banquet

Etiene, as he gives his speech at the “Share The Dream” Banquet

I believe that alternative admissions and bridge programs at colleges are great options for hardworking and determined students who need more help preparing for college. UMass Dartmouth is not the only school with these types of programs. Students can often find summer programs or first year intensive programs that will help support their academic needs. Programs such as Passport at College of the Holy Cross, AID at Worcester State, OTE at Boston College, and PLUS at Framingham State are all great examples of alternative admissions or bridge programs.

Some students are discouraged or disappointed to find out they have been selected for such programs because they may have to take a reduced course load, spend a few weeks of their summer taking college classes or attend mandatory tutoring sessions. These students should be excited for such programs! Not only do they offer lots of academic support in order to succeed in the first year of college, but a chance to build stronger relationships with peers and school administrators with which many students to not normally get the chance to interact. Bridge programs help students gain comfort with the rigorous coursework found in many college-level classes and understand what the rest of their years in college will look like. Over 90 Bottom Line students from the high school Class of 2012 went on to attend bridge programs at Bottom Line’s target colleges.  I love it when our students are able to take advantage of existing resources to better handle the transition to college and help them reach graduation.

– Kira Terrill

Success Counselor, Worcester

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Justin Strasburger - Worcester Site Director

Justin Strasburger – Worcester Site Director

It’s no secret that here at Bottom Line, we love data! In my mind, the best use for our data is to help us evaluate our programs, make necessary adjustments, and ensure the highest quality service for our students. It was with this in mind that, last summer, we took a look at the way we track the services we provide our college students.

Tracking our Success program poses a challenge because each student requires such individualized support. Without good data, it is hard to see patterns that allow us to take a more proactive approach with our students. What we came up with was a system to formalize the services we were providing to students: Success Service Plans. The concept was pretty straightforward: counselors would be able to plan out a semester’s worth of goals and corresponding services for each student and track them in our database. This allows counselors to think ahead and keep track of any follow up that needs to happen.

The Service Plan system we developed also provides us with a huge amount of data to better understand our students’ needs and our program’s capacity to meet these needs. A good example of this is the way we plan out campus visits. In the past, we have planned campus visits by school year and DEAL (Degree, Employability, Aid, and Life) color status (Green, Yellow, and Red).

We  allocated roughly three in-person meetings for 1st year students and students who were Red or Yellow. Typically, we had two in-person meetings with Green students. While this has never been set in stone, this assumption was necessary from a planning standpoint so that we could allocate our time appropriately. We all recognized that it was not as simple or clear-cut as saying that all students get two or three on-campus visits. Some may need more in-person meetings, while some may need less (but potentially more follow-up services). Without clear data, though, it was difficult for us to know if these assumptions made sense. Introducing Success Service Plans for each student has allowed us to truly move our program away from a one-size-fits-all approach.

While we are still completing our biannual assessment process, I have began to run some reports to see what the Success Service Plan data can tell us about the Fall 2012 semester. Here is what I found:

¨       Bottom Line’s 1,391 Success students (this does not include students who are currently not assigned to a counselor) received 8,876 total services, an average of 6.38 services per student.

¨       Of these services, 5,523 (or 59%) were in-person services (either occurring on campus or in our offices). This is a per student average of 3.76 in-person services (already above the 3 campus visits we have planned for our neediest students).

¨       The percent of total services provided by class year, is pretty close to the percent of total students by class year with the exception of Seniors. For example, 1st years account for 36% of Bottom Line’s students and accounted for 38% of the total services. Seniors account for 12% of Bottom Line’s students but accounted for only 6% of the total services. This is not terribly surprising as part of our work with Seniors is to help them become more self-reliant. This means that they likely required less follow-up services.

¨       Our Red (22%) and Yellow (22%) students received far more in-person services than Green students (14%).  On average Red students had 4.51 in-person services and Yellow students received 3.79 in-person services.  This information will help us to better plan out our campus visit needs.

I also took a look at services completed by college attending. To avoid small sample sizes, let’s consider colleges where Bottom Line has at least 25 students. We have 18 schools that fit this description: 10 public and 8 private. Despite this fairly even distribution of public vs. private schools, services were not as evenly distributed. The top 6 schools in terms of average services provided per student are all public schools. This is likely due to a higher concentration of Red, Yellow, and 1st year students at these schools. We can use this information to potentially allocate more time to a school like UMass-Lowell, where students required an average of 5.31 in-person services, than a school like Northeastern University, where students required an average of 2.66 in-person services.  It also shows that we need to do further analysis to make sure we are adequately serving all our students.

In a lot of ways, this data confirms our assumptions. It is important, however, that we are not working off of assumptions and instead base our plans off of data.  This body of information becomes increasingly valuable as Bottom Line continues to grow. As we expand into new markets and grow the number of students we are working with, thoughtful planning will be very important. While moving to the Service Plan system took some adjusting, I am confident that it will continue to prove a useful tool for counselors to more thoughtfully plan out their semesters, and for management and program development teams to better plan our curriculum and program implementation.

 

Justin Strasburger

Worcester, MA- Site Director

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Sheryl giving some advice to a recent alum.

Sheryl giving some advice to a recent alum.

On January 10th, we hosted our annual Go Far Forum at the Westin Copley Place Hotel in downtown Boston. The Go Far Forum is a unique career fair hosted for Bottom Line students which provides an opportunity for students to make meaningful connections with professionals and employers in various career fields. This may have been my first Go Far Forum, but I dare say it was bigger and better than ever. We hosted over 320 Bottom Line students and alumni and 100 volunteers.

I watched the students arrive and become wide-eyed as they realized that this was all for them. I welcomed the seniors that I work with and calmed their nerves as they told me what they were nervous about and who they were excited to meet. Each student was dressed professionally and carried with them a prepared and polished resume and a practiced elevator pitch. When I saw these same students at the end of the night, they had been transformed. Beaming with self-confidence, they eagerly told me all about whom they had met and who took their resume at the career fair. This is the type of confidence that makes a difference in a job interview and helps launch a career. This is exactly the confidence I wanted to see.  I wasn’t the only one who was impressed by our students.

One employer said, “Bottom Line students know what they want and are proactive and determined.” Another volunteer in the round table discussion room told me that he could see our program at work. “My first table was full of freshman and in the next round my table was full of juniors and seniors. I could see their growth. Your program really works. I could see it.”  This feedback was great to hear and affirmed my pride and confidence in the impact that Bottom Line makes.

This year, we welcomed over twenty employers to the career fair, and added three professional organizations. Employers included Boston Children’s Hospital, Draper Laboratory, EMC, Liberty Mutual, State Street, Teach for America, Senator Kerry’s Office, Boston Lawyers Group, and Target, just to name a few. We also welcomed the National Association of Asian American Professionals, the Association of Latino Professionals in Finance and Accounting, and The Partnership, Inc.  Bottom Line has created amazing partnerships and many of our students receive internship and job opportunities from this event.

Each student participated in round table discussions where they received feedback on their resumes from senior human resources professionals and a mock interview with seasoned professionals in multiple fields. Each career field was also represented in a special “Career Conversations” lounge, where students could explore their interests and talk to professionals in each field to learn how they got started and receive advice about how they can follow their path.

The Go Far Forum is an opportunity for our students to realize their potential and to start believing in themselves. The opportunity to receive feedback on mock interviews and resumes from professionals in the field is invaluable. Students who attended the event gained confidence, connections, and a more definite career plan.

– Sheryl Rosenberg, Career Counselor

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An exciting report that was released on Thursday, January 17 and was featured in The Boston Globe and on WBUR. According to the report by the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern and commissioned by the Boston Foundation, the 6-year college graduation rate for Boston Public School graduates increased from 40% to 47% between the high school graduating classes of 2000 and 2005. In addition, college enrollment and persistence rates have increased steadily since 2000.

 

When Bottom Line was founded in 1997 here in Boston, it was because we could see that students lacked the support, guidance and preparation to succeed in college. In the 16 years since then, we have been dedicated to changing the outcomes for those students, and we have been joined in our efforts more recently by many others in the community who have also recognized this significant challenge. This report acknowledges that we have made real progress in preparing and supporting our students so they can be successful in college and beyond. From the class of 2005, nearly 7% of all BPS degree earners received Bottom Line’s support throughout college. Our guidance played a critical role in the success of those students.

 

However, for our organization and for the community as a whole, our work isn’t done.

 Even with this progress, more than half of college-enrolled BPS graduates still were unable to earn a degree in 6 years. However, we have continued to grow every year since 2005, and we will continue to expand so that we can make a real, significant impact on our students and the community moving forward. The size of our class has tripled between 2005 and 2012, and, within the next two years, we will grow to serve 450 Boston Public School graduates from each high school class year, in addition to students from the Greater Boston and Worcester areas. With this growth, we hope to play an even larger role in the progress of our students and our community moving forward.

 

Mike Wasserman

Executive Director – MA

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Sarah Place – Director of Curriculum & Training

In a recent Education Week blog article, “Community College Transfers Often Do Well at 4-Year Institutions,” author Caralee Adams cites positive data from the National Student Clearinghouse regarding the success rates of students obtaining BA degrees after transferring from two-year colleges.  This report states that “In the 2010-11 academic year, 45 percentof all students who completed a degree at a four-year institution had previously enrolled at a two-year institution.”

I must admit that I was surprised to find such a successful rate of transfer students in this report; throughout my 6 years of experience working with low-income and first-generation students in Massachusetts, I have not witnessed the same result for students who begin their education at a two-year institution.  Out of the hundreds of students I have worked with at Bottom Line, I can count on one hand the number who have successfully transferred from a community college and received a bachelor’s degree within six years–so these students are the exception, not the rule.

In order for students to transfer to a four-year college, they must be successful at the start of their two-year college experience, and this is often not the  case. Getting to the Finish Line: College Enrollment and Graduation, a report by the Boston Private Industry Council and Northeastern University’s Center for Labor Market Studies that tracks graduation data from the Boston Public High Schools’ Class of 2000, found that only 12.5% of students who enrolled in a two-year public college directly after high school obtained any kind of college degree within seven years. With this rate, it’s no surprise that counselors and college professionals are hesitant to recommend starting the college experience at a two-year institution.

Massachusetts ranks 47th on the National Student Clearinghouse’s report with only 23% of four-year college graduates getting their start at a two-year institution.  While there may be a variety of reasons for this, in my experience, students in MA often have a negative association with attending a two-year college that doesn’t as appear to be a prevalent in a states like Texas, where 78% of four-year college graduates start out at a two-year school.  The students in our program that enroll at a community college are usually doing so because they did not get accepted anywhere else and are often discouraged before they begin due to the stigma and low graduation rates at many of these institutions.

Nonetheless, it makes a lot of sense for certain students to start off at a community college.  Ideally, these schools offer an affordable option for students needing remedial academic support, and a safe place for students to explore whether or not college is the right path for them.  Financially, a student can complete general education requirements at a community college for around  $4,000 per year and it can be covered by a Pell Grant. Academically, students unprepared for Bachelor’s degree level coursework are better off beginning their college experiences at a community college where credits are more affordable and remedial academic support is offered.  Because so many of the students entering community college are those needing remedial support, however, their path to getting a degree is a long one.

As tuition and fees continue to skyrocket at four-year institutions across the state, more students are going to need to explore creative ways to obtain a college degree.  I for one look forward to the day when more students can begin their college careers at two-year institutions.  It would save them money and often could save them time, but until there is a shift in the stigma associated with Community College this will not likely be the case.  In order to change the perception, we must start seeing more positive results in graduation and transfer rates at these institutions.  While the northeast is often looked upon as leading the way in higher education, this seems to be a clear example of where we have a lot to learn from the states to our south and west.

 

–  Sarah Place

Director of Curriculum and Training

 

Cross-posted at Aspire Wire: Ideas, Conversation, Action on Tuesday, November 27, 2012

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Success Counselor Kira Terrill talking with a student at our Worcester Office

It’s hard for my First Year students to believe that the Fall 2012 semester is almost over! With that disbelief also comes the students’ awareness that their grades may not be as good as they were in high school. Many students really struggle with the transition from high school level to college level work.  Luckily, Bottom Line students have their counselors to really help guide them through the transition.  Bottom Line addresses this issue by providing summer programming and has developed specific tools to help our students find success during their critical first year.

Our summer transition program includes both group workshops and one-on-one meetings. One workshop on time management always seems to be especially eye-opening. After adding classes and study time to a weekly schedule, counselors bombarded students with different responsibilities and activities that also needed to be taken care of, on top of all of their studying and homework!  I can remember one student shouting “I don’t have time for all of this extra stuff!” Although a little early, it was an easy way for students to prepare for things they were about to face during their first (and every other) year of college. Some students immediately internalize the lesson and others need more reinforcing once they arrive on campus.

This fall, I’ve been working with many First Year students on improving their time management and study skills. I have 38 First Year students at four different colleges and have had 196 campus meetings and phone follow-ups this fall.  Additionally, I met with over 50% of my First Years who felt like they needed extra support for time management and test prep strategies meetings. Simply reading over notes doesn’t really cut it on college exams. My students and I have worked together to create study plans tailored to each of their exams, as well as their learning needs. With some students, I can simply suggest recopying and summarizing notes or making flashcards for vocabulary words. With other students, they may need to draw diagrams, attend tutoring and office hours, and form study groups. Helping students create these study plans and break down when things need to be done, makes the task of studying a little less daunting. Showing students how to put in a little extra effort and attack problems from different directions to make success possible shows the value of our meetings to my students and is why I love working for Bottom Line.

 

– Kira Terrill

Success Counselor

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By the first week of November, I have packaged – Bottom Line lingo for submitting college applications with our students – seven students on my caseload of sixty-two. This is a huge step in the life of each Bottom Line student for a variety of reasons. Our students are often the first in their family to apply to college and, in many instances, are the first in their families to be on track to graduate from high school.

Packaging meetings last at least two hours; however, since Halloween candy appeared in the office, they have been running a little longer. Being the dork that I am, I started calling them “Snackaging” meetings; mostly to satisfy my own desire to sneak puns into my meetings, but also to break the ice and calm my students through the intense experience of actually hitting submit. After their college essays are checked twice (just like Santa’s list), and their Common Application and other applications are filled out – “I’s dotted and T’s crossed” – they sit down, fingers hovering over the mouse for a second, and, in one tiny movement, change the trajectory of the their prescripted lives. After submitting, our work here at Bottom Line is nowhere near done. We spend the last few minutes of these meetings creating checklists for follow-up and broaching the subject of financial aid – another application process we assist students with beginning in January.

Before our students head home, out into the wintry air, perhaps traveling over an hour on public transportation to get home – magic happens. In advance of their meeting, a yellow star is made with the name of said student printed in bold lettering. After a student has clicked submit, they place their stars on a wall in the office under the statement “I Hit Submit!” When a student makes a move towards the wall, star in head, whispers begin to fly around the office.  Heads turn and both counselors and students stop their work to clap as the student proudly places the star on the wall. “I have applied,” they silently declare, one giant leap towards something more.

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Hey, my name is Risa and I’m a college counselor with Bottom Line in New York.  Back in September I had my first trip to Buffalo. The rumors are true: it is really close to Canada! It’s also dark at night and has exceptional wings.

 Just like all Bottom Line college counselors, I visit my college students on campus monthly to meet with them one-on-one. Sometimes we problem solve (think “I don’t have my books!” or “My bill is incorrect!”), sometimes we prepare for the future (think “What classes should I take?” or “Can you help me edit my resume?”), and sometimes I’m just a familiar face from home with a handful of Jolly Ranchers, ready to listen.

 This year, I have the privilege of working with students from New York City College of Technology and Buffalo State College. After my first month of campus visits, I’d like to share some things my students have learned (and I agree with!) about transitioning to college.

 Five Ways to be Successful in College

 1. Get involved. Living in a 10′ x 10′ room with a total stranger is not easy and no one expects it to be! Join a club, volunteer, and attend activities on your floor or campus. Drag friends or roommates with you before you feel comfortable going alone (and then go with them to the clubs they are interested in). Becoming active on campus isn’t only a great way to make new friends, but it also helps many students feel like they’re part of the campus community (especially for commuters), and it helps with homesickness.

 2. Meet your professors outside of class. There’s a reason professors put their office hours on their syllabi: they want you to go to them! Lots of professors spend their entire lives studying what they’re teaching you in class and would love to answer your questions or chat about a subject you’re excited about. Hey, it doesn’t hurt for the professor to know your name (in a good way) when final grades come out.

 3. Try new things. What’s the worst that can happen? For many students, college is a time for reinvention. So what if you weren’t the type of student to participate in class in high school? Who cares if you never imagined yourself taking a dance class? Try it – you never know what may come of it if you don’t give it a shot.

 4. Start a study group. Or join one that someone else in your class created. Not only can you better understand the material if you’re reviewing it with classmates, but it’s a great way to make friends. And, teaching someone else something you already know is a great way to study for exams!

 5. Share your culture. Being away from home (physically or emotionally) can be tough. Some students who leave the city for college find a surprising lack of diversity in their new homes. Some students who graduated from small high schools and commute to college are suddenly a small fish in the proverbial big pond of NYC. Sharing parts of your home life with your college friends can help ease the transition. Have your new friends never seen a plantain? Cook it for them. Have they never heard about the Labor Day Parade? Show them pictures. Interested in vegan food and urban farming? There’s probably someone else at your school who is too! Use the opportunity to learn from others and teach others about yourself.

 
– Risa Dubow
Bottom Line Counselor
Brooklyn, New York
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Since the start of the school year, our Success Counselors have traveled to 20 campuses across Massachusetts to meet one-on-one with all of our 1,300 students. Liz Hood, a second-year Success Counselor, reflects on a busy month of the school year…

In the month of September, I had ninety-one campus meetings and traveled a total of four hundred and thirty-two miles to visit students at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Boston College and Wentworth Institute of Technology. Despite that seemingly never-ending stretch of I-90 between Worcester and the exit off to Amherst (I went to Smith College and the Pioneer Valley will always hold a place in my heart) one of the things that I enjoy the most about being a Bottom Line Success Counselor is the ability to support students on campus and in person. A standard meeting that takes place in September is the first year check in meeting. This forty-five minute meeting addresses issues related to academics, campus life, financial aid and anything else that may arise.

Last month, I met with all of my first year students on their own campuses.  By being on campus I am able to more effectively connect students to the resources that are available to them and encourage them to advocate for themselves. First year students are often times intimidated by the idea of asking for help. The other day I met with a student who had an unresolved issue with her bill and she did not know where to go or what to ask.  We discussed her bill issue and acted out the conversation in a quick role-play, and I walked over with her to the bursar’s office.  She was able to resolve the issue on the spot. Another student I met with was struggling in Chemistry class, but did not know where to go for extra help.  We went to the tutoring center together and he signed up to meet with a tutor once a week.

I really enjoy working with first year students; I get to watch as students see the world opening up to them.  There is so much optimism and excitement as they begin to figure out who they want to be and what they want to do. I strongly believe that campus visits play an integral role in strengthening counselor-student relationships and demonstrate to students that Bottom Line is really invested in their success and wants to see them excel.

Liz Hood

Bottom Line Success Counselor

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Students Celebrate Start of College at Send-Offs

On August 14 and 15, hundreds of students in Bottom Line’s Success Program celebrated the beginning of their college careers at Success Send-Off events in Worcester and Boston. On the 14th, 75 Worcester students gathered at Hanover Insurance’s national headquarters to get to know their new college classmates and participate in team-building exercises. On the 15th, over 200 Boston students converged on Hill Holiday’s high-rise offices for a night of celebration and reflection.

Two future Framinham State Alumnae

At both Send-Offs, students were grouped into teams according to the college they will attend, giving them an immediate support network of peers when they arrive on campus. The groups were led by their Success Counselors, who support the students throughout their college careers. Students also received t-shirts representing their individual college and ate dinner with their new classmates. At the end of the evenings, teams competed to create and perform the best school cheer, and gift cards for textbooks were raffled off.

At the Boston Send-Off, Robert Lewis, Jr., Vice President for Program with The Boston Foundation, gave a rousing speech encouraging students to live up their potential and to work with their Success Counselors.

“Knowing that you have someone from Bottom Line here, knowing that you’re coming here with other great students that are your support network…the shot you have to succeed is great,” said Mr. Lewis.

At the Worcester Send-Off, Yuisa Peréz Chionchio, Advanced Placement Coordinator for Worcester Public Schools and member of Bottom Line Worcester’s Advisory Board, stressed how college can help students become America’s future leaders.

Bridgewater State and UMass-Lowell were well-represented

“You are future CEOs, politicians and educators like myself,’ said Ms. Chionchio. “You guys are going to college that is your solid foundation. Bottom Line is going to help you to succeed in that.”

Students left the Send-Offs energized and hopeful. And, when they need support, as Mr. Lewis reminded students, “Bottom Line is only a phone call away.”

See video of Robert Lewis’ speech>>

See video of Yuisa Perez Chionchio’s speech>>