Over the past 10 years it’s become clear that the work to increase the public high school graduation rates and lower drop-out rates has had an impact, as 80% of students from the high school class of 2012 earned their diploma as the US Dept. of Education reported in their April 2014 report. However, these improvements have not translated to college success for students from low-income households. For almost 40 years the college graduation rate for low-income students has remained flat at about 20%.

Bottom Line has been squarely focused on the issues of college access and success for low-income students for almost twenty years. We know that the solution to improving the college success rate for low-income students won’t come easily. We are pleased to see more attention being paid to the disparity between the “Rich and the Poor”, as in this week’s Wall Street Journal article, Big Gap in College Graduation Rates for Rich and Poor, and the recent study, Indicators of Higher Education Equity in the United States published by the University of Pennsylvania and the Pell Institute for Study of Opportunity in Higher Education.

As with the improvement of the national public high school graduation rates, the factors that relate to college success are complex. There is no quick fix or low-cost intervention that will solve the problem. However, we have identified one key differentiator that we believe leads to long-term college success and that is the importance of having an experienced family member, mentor or counselor to whom students can turn to when faced with a challenge.

Through nearly two decades of work supporting students through college, we have learned that virtually all of the challenges faced by low-income college students fall in to four categories:  Academics, Career Development, Affordability, and Social/Emotional.  Our DEAL Model for college success is built around this framework. When students are faced with challenges from one or more of these categories, they need a trusted resource to provide guidance, and a strategy as they work to overcome the challenges they face. Bottom Line can be that resource for some or many of those students, but we need a national investment of time, talent and resources to help.

Questions? Thoughts? Share them with us here!  


The end of the school year is an exciting time for Bottom Line high school students and their Access Program counselors. After several months of submitting applications, editing countless essays, and securing financial aid, we see the amazing results of our work.

“Wow! Is that it? Are we like done? I can’t believe that I’m going to college,” said one of my students as we finished discussing the next steps at her last meeting.

Another student’s parent said, “Thank you so much for helping my daughter! I don’t know how you do this job—I would be so bored, but thank you for your time and patience!”

For many students in our program, making the decision to attend college was one of the most important decisions in their lives, and it’s a decision we as counselor take seriously. For low-income, first-generation students, it’s a tremendous financial investment. One of the key things that Bottom Line values during the decision-making process is financial aid and the affordability of our student’s schools. According to the article “How Counselors Can Shape the College Plans of First-Generation Students” from The Chronicle of Higher Education, “the time counselors spent on college-going activities had a statistically significant effect…on students’ perception that college was affordable.” As organization, one of Bottom Line’s core values is responsibility, and, as counselors, we have a responsibility to assist students in making an affordable choice when choosing a college by informing them of all of their options. I’m happy to report that the majority of our students have made financially sound decisions about the school they will attend.

But, for low-income, first-generation students, getting into college is just the first step. Nationwide, only one-third of college students from these backgrounds actually graduate. Bottom Line’s Success Program prevents this by giving students who attend one of 20 regional Massachusetts colleges up to six years of one-on-one college counseling. The overwhelming majority of our students will be enrolling in the program: in Massachusetts, 89% of eligible students have attended or will attend Success Kick Offs, where they have the opportunity to learn more about the Success Program and what the services that they can expect to receive from Bottom Line during their college years.

I can remember hearing the enthusiasm and, at times, the relief of students who decided to participate in the program—they were glad to know that they could still receive Bottom Line’s help in college!

Before most of our students begin their college careers, they will be working, travelling, and/or participating in a summer bridge program at their institution. Unlike a lot of college students, our students have to work to support themselves and their families. Nonetheless, they are going to college with the hope of gaining the knowledge and capital to make their community a better place.

– Deandra Roberts, Access Program Counselor

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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Earlier this month, students, staff, volunteers, supporters, and corporate and community leaders gathered at The Westin Copley Place Hotel in Boston to celebrate 15 years of helping students get into college, graduate from college, and go far in life. College students Yaritza Peña, Melissa Peña, Julie Rorie, and Joe Rowell spoke of the challenges that they have overcome to succeed in college and their experiences growing up in Boston and participating in Bottom Line. Bentley University President Gloria Larson reminded us of the need for a college-educated workforce and the benefits of providing services to students on campus. The event also honored USA Funds CEO Carl Dalstrom for his ongoing commitment to low-income and first-generation students; Senior Vice President of Access and Outreach Bob Ballard accepted an award on Dalstrom’s behalf. Because of the generous support from the attendees and sponsors, $550,000+ was raised to help low-income and first-generation students complete a college degree. Thank you to everyone who continues to provide students from our community with the guidance they need to reach their full potential.

As part of the event’s programming, we presented this video, which shares some students’ thoughts and experiences about college and Bottom Line.

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In 2011, Bottom Line…

  • Guided 145 high school seniors and 91 college students from Worcester to and through college
  • Guided 493 high school seniors and 852 college students from Boston to and through college
  • Helped 137 new graduates finish college, which expanded our alumni network to include 608 individuals
  • Increased our lifetime graduation rate to 74%, which is nearly twice the typical graduation rate for students from Boston
  • Helped 97% of high school seniors who completed our College Access Program enroll in college this fall
  • Launched a third office in New York City and began to serve 125 high school seniors in Brooklyn

Thanks to the generosity of our supporters (that’s you!), students from low-income homes and the first generation of their families to attend college received the guidance they need to earn a college degree. With a college degree, these students are much more likely to obtain high-paying jobs, build meaningful careers, provide adequate care for their families, and become engaged members of their communities.

To read more about the incredible feats that you helped students achieve during the past year, download Bottom Line’s 2011 Annual Report or the Year in Review of our Massachusetts or New York programs.

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Class participation is one of the easiest ways to promote success in college. Being engaged can boost your grades, help you stand out to your professors, and help you learn more! Participation may also make you a more likely candidate for scholarships, research opportunities, jobs, and special recognition for which your professors may nominate you. The following tips will help you or a student you know be an active learner in the college classroom:

1 ) Be prepared for class
Completing your homework and assigned reading is the most important factor for doing well in class. If you attend class prepared, it will be easier to participate, pass tests and quizzes, and learn the material (which is why you are there in the first place!).

2 ) Arrive on time
Punctuality shows that you are serious about the class and you value the time you spend there.

3 ) Sit in the front
You will be easily visible to your professor and you will listen better from the front of the classroom.

4 ) Hold a pen
Having a writing utensil in hand is a signal to your professor that you are ready and willing to take notes.

5 ) Take notes
In a lecture class, you need to write down information – at the very least – every 5 minutes. This will help you stay present and retain information.

6 ) Nod your head
What better way to show your professor that you are listening and engaged than with your body language!

7 ) Make eye contact
Keep your eyes up and watch your professor as he/she lectures. Sooner or later your eyes will meet and he/she will see that you are engaged in class!

8 ) Speak up
Make sure your voice is heard at least once a week in your classes. If you have a question, ask it. If you have an opinion, share it. Your professor will recognize your effort if you make a point to speak up!

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Ernest J. Newborn II, chairman of the USA Funds board of trustees congratulates Greg Johnson, Executive Director of Bottom Line

If you haven’t heard yet, Bottom Line was recently selected as the winner of a national competition for a $1 million award to support college success. Out of the 51 applications they received from across the country, USA Funds decided to present Bottom Line with the Trustee’s National Award for College Success. The award was created to “advance the complementary national goals of increasing the percentage of American adults with college degrees to 60 percent by 2025.”

Last week, USA Fund’s staff and board traveled to Boston to announce the award, with Bottom Line staff, students, and board members also in attendance. Ernest J. Newborn II and Greg Johnson (above) both spoke about the need for programs that help students succeed in college and how Bottom Line and USA Funds will work to meet those needs. Javier Hernandez, a graduating senior at UMass Boston and active participant in Bottom Line’s College Success Program, was able to share how Bottom Line has affected his life.

The generous grant will be paid to Bottom Line over the next three years; it will ultimately help Bottom Line replicate the College Access and College Success Programs in New York City and expand to serve 3,200 students annually across Massachusetts and New York by 2015.

Our staff and students are very grateful to our supporters (that means you!) for helping Bottom Line reach this exciting point in our growth and success. Because of your belief in our mission, we will continue expanding to help more students reach their full potential.

We recently wrote a blog post entitled “Mentors Can Fill Gaps Left by Lack of Parental Support.” In that post, we discussed a recent study looking at adolescent interventions like Upward Bound and Talent Search, and we added our thoughts about Bottom Line’s role as a complement to these programs.

After posting this, we received some criticism from readers believing that our post was meant to disparage Upward Bound. We were pleased to see that people have been reading our blog, and we welcome these types of discussions. In this case, though, we believe the negative feedback was more a result of misunderstanding than disagreement. And so we’d like to continue the discussion.

In that post, we quoted Dr. Rachael Walsh’s recent study “Helping or Hurting: Are Adolescent Intervention Programs Minimizing Racial Inequality,” published in Education and Urban Society in December 2010. As we stated, Dr. Walsh’s study found that Upward Bound and Talent Search were effective at increasing college attendance rates. The study found that students were 17% more likely to attend college if they participated in one of these programs. And we applaud Upward Bound and Talent Search for this success. The study shows that these programs are helping low-income and first-generation students enroll in college at the same rates as the general population.

Perhaps poorly articulated in our original post, we at Bottom Line believe that the study did not go far enough in demonstrating that college enrollment is not enough. A college degree is the true goal, and our program was founded in 1997 to ensure that students who begin college make it through to the finish line. While we believe that middle-school and high-school programs can create a college-going culture and can increase college enrollment, there is more that must be done. According to Dr. Walsh, “[Socio-economic Status] and family composition continue to have statistical significance in the lives and future choices of students, regardless of the programs provided by the federal government.”

We take this to mean that helping a student get in to college does not guarantee their success beyond that. And this should come as no surprise. The college graduation rates of disadvantaged, urban students are unacceptably low. For Boston’s high school class of 2003, only 41% of all students who began attending college graduated in 6 years. For Black and Hispanic students, the graduation rate was 33% and 30% respectively.

We readily acknowledge that no program can be all things to all people. For example, Bottom Line is not in high schools or embedded on a college campus and isn’t able to create the college-going culture and provide the college-preparation that programs like Talent Search and Upward Bound provide. At the same time, unlike most school based programs, Bottom Line continues to provide a comprehensive range of mentoring and support services to students for up to six years of college.  As a result, our college students are between 27% and 43% more likely to graduate with a degree.

Each of these limitations can be turned into strengths if we can work together to provide transitional services to ensure the pipeline of support leads from one organization or program to another.  We, as a community and as a country, are helping students get in to college and we’re getting better at that. But, the conversation shouldn’t stop there.

Admin Assistant Ty Streeter holding Bottom Line's award

College Board announced the winners of their annual Innovation Awards for the New England region during the College Board New England Regional Forum on February 3, 2011. Bottom Line was given an award under the category of “Getting Through” for our College Success Program. Program Coordinator Justin Strasburger accepted this award on behalf of Bottom Line at the event.

This is the second award Bottom Line has received in the last six months for our efforts to boost the college completion rates of low-income and first-generation students in Massachusetts. The program that College Board has recognized provides one-on-one guidance to students in academic, employment, financial, and personal areas during college. The personalized support that Bottom Line offers has helped 73% of the college students in this program graduate in 6 years or less, a rate nearly three times what is typical among underrepresented students.

Criteria for the Innovation Award included the impact of services and the potential for the program model to be replicated and adapted by other organizations, institutions, educators, and policymakers. Bottom Line is pleased to have been selected based on these characteristics.

Boston Executive Director Greg Johnson says, “We are proud to be the recipient of this award and represent the values that the CollegeKeys Compact upholds.” The Compact is a coalition of schools, colleges, state agencies, and non-profit organizations that aims to identify, share, and intensify ways to address the needs and challenges of increasing access and success for low-income students. “Bottom Line is an important solution to the college completion problem and we hope this award from College Board is another vehicle for us to share our methods,” says Mr. Johnson.

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It’s official: Bottom Line has an Executive Director for our New York City site, which will launch in July 2011. Ruth Genn, currently the Director of the College and Career Pathways unit at New Visions, brings Bottom Line:

  • a familiarity with NYC’s education environment
  • a knowledge base of the challenges NYC students face
  • the leadership, experience, and drive to combat the staggering college retention problem
  • a dedication to evaluation and data analysis for measuring the success of programs and policies
  • an understanding of today’s urban education issues from a teacher’s, policymaker’s, and program director’s perspective

As head of Bottom Line’s new site, Ruth will reach out to local schools and youth-serving organizations that serve students who would benefit from Bottom Line’s programs. She will lead a college counseling staff of three through the training and implementation of Bottom Line’s support services. She will research and connect with local colleges that will most likely enroll our students. And she will spread the message that helping students simply “get in” is not enough.

With Ruth’s leadership, Bottom Line will replicate our college retention model in NYC and show that the success of any student is possible when he or she is given the guidance and support needed to earn a degree.


About Ruth Genn
Ruth Genn is joining Bottom Line as the Executive Director of the newly opening NYC office. Previously, Ruth worked at New Visions for Public Schools, where she launched and directed the College and Career Pathways unit. As the department’s director, Ruth oversaw the development of New Visions’ college readiness platform, a set of research-based benchmarks that articulate what students should know and accomplish during each year of high school to be prepared for post-secondary success. She also managed the cultivation of partnerships that brought resources and supports to New Visions schools. Prior to this role, Ruth created New Visions’ first data unit, where she developed an early warning system and a set of tools that help school leaders, teachers, students, and families track students’ progress toward graduation.

Before joining New Visions in 2005, Ruth worked in City Hall on the integration of after-school services across several NYC agencies. She has experience in K-12 education policy at the local and state level, and began her career as a NYC public school teacher. Ruth holds a Master’s Degree in Public Policy from the Goldman School of Public Policy at UC Berkeley and an undergraduate degree from Cornell University. She grew up in Tenafly, NJ, and currently lives in Brooklyn, NY, with her family.

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