kendall blog pickIn the Boston office we have 503 high school students that Bottom Line is helping through the college admissions and financial aid processes.  Most of the high school seniors that we work with have packaged their college applications and placed their star on our “I Hit Submit!” wall.  In fact by December 21,492 of our students had completed their applications.  We have switched gears for the most part and are focusing on financial aid (ie the FAFSA and the CSS Profile).

A few of our students, however, are still in the process of applying to college.  In the case of my student, Stefani, the path to putting her star on the “I Hit Submit!” wall was a tough one.  In the fall of her senior year, difficult family circumstances caused Stefani to fall behind in school to the point where she had to postpone the college application process in order to focus on passing her high school classes.  While she would likely graduate from high school, she did not think she could go to college.  She was told by many adults in her life that that perhaps a year or two at community college after high school would be the best path for her. 

 

Not knowing this, I continued to reach out to Stefani asking her to come back to Bottom Line and to see if she wanted help applying for college.  Sometimes the most important thing I do as a Bottom Line Counselor is provide steady, positive coaching, telling my students that they can do it.

When I sent Stefani an email after winter break to ask her where she was at and when she may want to meet, she was in a completely different place.  She was no longer the overwhelmed student who had given up the dream of attending a four-year college.  She told me that her mindset had completely changed and that, despite the challenging circumstances in her life, she had started to turn things around in school and was no longer in danger of not graduating. 

 Then, she asked me if it was too late for her to apply to college.  While she was literally months behind her peers, we were able to work together and she was able to make many of her colleges February 1st deadlines.  Although her colleges’ application process has not followed the traditional route here at Bottom Line, in a few short days Stefani was finally able to put her star on our “I Hit Submit” wall – a testament to her perseverance.

– Kendall Hiedman

Boston Access Counselor

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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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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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DaVante Bonneau was born and raised in the Bronx, New York. He graduated from the Bronx School for Law, Government, and Justice in 2011. He lives with his mom and younger sister, who are both very supportive of his goal to gain a higher education. DaVante is currently in his first year at CUNY’s New York City College of Technology (a.k.a. City Tech), which is located in Downtown Brooklyn near Bottom Line’s office. DaVante is interested in many fields, but is considering majoring in Anthropology.

DaVante has always been excited about going to college, so he was thrilled to be offered admission to City Tech. He says that it’s very motivating to be going through this experience with his friends from high school, who go to college throughout New York City and the state. His friends talk about how no one wants to be the one who doesn’t graduate on time, so DaVante makes sure to stay on top of his classes and reading assignments (something different from high school!). With that in mind, he is grateful for the support he’s gotten from Bottom Line’s New York staff so far. He says, “I would be more nervous and wouldn’t really have anyone to help me through questions I have.” DaVante especially appreciates the advice he received about how to save money by renting, as opposed to buying, textbooks for his classes.

During breaks, DaVante and his friends often come to Bottom Line’s office to study, work on projects, or just hang out and eat lunch. After only a few months, DaVante already considers Bottom Line’s New York office his “second home.”

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Hey everyone,

If you read my first blog post, you will know how hectic my week was days before Spring Break. I am happy to say that I survived—thinking back on it, I don’t even know how! But this does not mean that school is now suddenly calm; I have two papers and an assignment due tomorrow and I have more exams coming up within only a matter of weeks. With all of the work students in college have to handle, it is not surprising that most of them are overly stressed. I am no exception.

One of the biggest battles I struggle with during school is trying to figure out how to maintain my sanity. Dealing with family and relationship problems, health issues, and financial difficulties are only a few of the things college students have to deal with. On top of all that, we have to worry about exams, papers, and a ton of assignments. Although I am currently finishing my second year in college and I am not as wise as the seniors when it comes to this topic, I have been able to learn so much about ways to cope with stress in an environment like this (especially since it is often talked about in Psychology, my major). Here’s what I’ve learned:

1. Talk to your professors: This is probably one of the most important things college students should do but don’t take the time to do (including me until this semester). Talking to your professors can reduce an enormous amount of stress, especially if you are unable to understand a concept or even if you completely bombed one of the exams. It is amazing how sympathetic and encouraging a professor can be when you just take the time to communicate!

2. Reach out to others: Pretty much everyone on campus is on his or her own with no siblings or family members to rely on. I learned that, for me, I need to have support from others since my family is not around. Professors, faculty, friends, and roommates can contribute greatly to helping you out when you need to talk with someone. I’ve noticed that one of the biggest supportive relationships someone can have on campus is through their roommate (I will blog about my roommate experiences next month!). Having someone you can vent to and someone who understands you is so helpful and can reduce the amount of stress that you feel.

3. Take time for yourself: I struggle with this so much! In fact, I almost never do things for me. I’ve noticed that a lot of people who have already gone through the college experience stress how important this is. Even joining a weekly club or a sports team is very beneficial. College should be a time to get good grades, but also a time to have fun and enjoy life! I vow that I will start spending more “me time” from now on.

My advice seems like common sense (and it is!), but when you are in college you suddenly seem to lose track of the little things that you can do in order to make your life much easier.

Wishing you all a stress-free month,

Kristie

PS: I mentioned how I am planning to blog about my roommate experiences for next month. Please, please, please let me know (in the comments section) if there is anything you would like to hear about regarding my college experiences.

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It’s financial aid season! That means time for college students to fill out FAFSAs and CSS profiles. Applying for financial aid can be daunting and confusing, particularly if you’re from a family that is unfamiliar with the process. Since applying for financial aid is somewhat complex, there’s many misconceptions about how paying for college actually works. Below are the five common myths that Bottom Line counselors often debunk for students.Student-Counselor Meeting

1) My family doesn’t have any money, so I can’t afford to go to college.

All college students are eligible for financial aid, which will help you pay for college! To determine how much you and your family pay for your education, colleges and the federal government have you calculate your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). This lets them know about how much you are eligible to receive in financial aid, based on you and your family’s income, savings, and other indicators. So the less money your family has, the more aid you should expect to receive for college.

2) My dream college costs nearly $40,000 a year—I can’t afford that!

Just because a college has a high price tag doesn’t mean that you can’t afford it. For some colleges, you will only have to pay the amount calculated for your EFC. For other colleges, there will be a gap between your EFC and the college’s price tag. If there’s a gap, you can always advocate with the college’s financial aid office and apply for outside scholarships.

3) Public colleges are always more affordable than private colleges.

On the contrary, some private colleges award “full need” financial aid packages. That means they provide students with enough grants and low-interest loans to make up the difference between their family’s EFC and the school’s cost of attendance.

4) The only way I can get money for college is by having perfect grades.

Colleges and the federal government award scholarships, grants, and low-interest loans based solely on financial need—that’s what financial aid is! Merit-based scholarships and grants are awarded separately from financial aid packages.

5) I was awarded $5,000 in work-study, so the rest of my tuition expenses are covered.

Not so fast—work-study is money that you have to earn throughout the semester… by checking students into the dining hall, logging packages in the mail room, or answering phones at an administrative office. You can’t subtract this money from the bill that’s due at the beginning of the semester, since it will take you all semester to earn the money. In addition, you only get paid for the number of hours that you work. While you’ve been awarded $5,000 in work-study, you may only have time in your schedule to earn $4,000 of this award.

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