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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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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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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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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Throughout the country, thousands of students are walking across stages to accept a milestone for which they have worked tirelessly: their college diploma. The month of May marks the culmination of numerous study sessions, group projects, and research papers as well as the beginning of a new journey. Particularly for low-income and first-generation college graduates, this time is transformative.

Last week, Odalis Polanco, a new graduate of Northeastern University and Bottom Line’s College Success Program, was profiled on and The Chronicle of Higher Education.  As a Torch Scholar and a Bottom Line student, Odalis demonstrates the determination that many students from low-income and first-generation backgrounds exhibit. To Odalis and the many other students graduating this month, congratulations. To the organizations, institutions, and individuals who supported these remarkable students, thank you.

Hear what Odalis says about working with Bottom Line…

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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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In September, Bottom Line’s office began to fill with boxes. By exam season, our back room was teeming with snacks, branded dishes, empty mailing boxes, and turquoise crinkle paper. On October 27th, Bottom Line’s halls filled with the sounds of stuffing, taping, labeling, and the laughter of Bottom Line staff. In assembly-line style, we made care packages for our college students.

Care packages are one of the most revered parts of Bottom Line’s College Success Program, by staff and students alike. Last week, our office got to pause for an afternoon to package what we hope are the comfort and support our students needed to make it through their exams and midterm papers. After the last care package was wheeled away in a mail bin, the assembly line disbanded and we returned to checking emails, making calls, and meeting with students. Then the thank yous started coming in.

“I just got my care package! I totally love it! The package came right on time too… I just came out of an Orgo exam and the package made my night!” -Jen, Northeastern University

“Thank you so much for the care package that I got. It was such a nice surprise (I haven’t gotten any packages yet!). I’m already 90% done with the food that you sent me. Thanks!!” -Valerie, Boston College

“Thank you for the care package… I love the soup bowl and spoon! You guys are awesome. :)” -Leticia, Tufts University

While helping students plan study schedules, connect with tutors, and prioritize classwork during exam season is necessary, reminding them that there’s someone out there rooting for their success is just as important. That’s why we focus on delivering a “life” curriculum: our students need someone who can offer well-informed advice and the support and encouragement they need to get through the tough times.

Thank you to all our supporters and alumni who made it possible for us to send nearly 900 care packages this semester.

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Since the day that Bottom Line began supporting students it was obvious that just working with them through the college application process wasn’t good enough.  The at-risk students we help “get in” are far too likely to drop out of college before completing a degree. Consequently, we built our programming model to remain connected and supportive until our students graduate from college. Until now, it wasn’t clear how big of an impact our program was having.  A study released by Harvard Doctoral candidate, Kolajo Afolabi, has been able to take a comparative look at our work and the results are impressive. According to the study, students in Bottom Line’s College Success program are up to 43% more likely to graduate from college than their peers.

In 2002 Bottom Line made a few changes that set the stage for this study.  That year marks the moment that the demand for our access program had grown too large for us to support every high school senior in our College Success program. It was then that our Success program began to evolve to supporting students at what we call “Target Schools”.  These are the schools where the majority of our students attend.  They are the schools that tend to be more affordable than others – often public colleges and universities and all in Massachusetts.  This change created a unique ability to measure the graduation rates of the students who went on to our Target colleges vs. those who decided to attend another school.  The populations we are comparing, while not exactly the same, have much in common.  Furthermore we were able to control for variables including ethnicity, high school academic performance and type of college attended.

While I am not surprised that the students who joined our College Success program have done better, I am impressed at the size of the disparity between the groups. Students who remain in our program are up to 43% more likely to complete a college degree than those who receive our college access support and then do not join our college program.

Kolajo’s work will help demonstrate to others why it is so important to think of the college application process as a beginning and not the end.  Coupling his research with our day to day work reinforces our belief that “getting in is not good enough.”  Please read the full study or the executive summary, and let us know what you think.

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Greetings from UMass Amherst!

It’s 5:30 pm, and after meeting with 34 students, the UMass Amherst crew is still going strong. We will meet with 9 more students this evening and 25 more students tomorrow before heading back to Boston in the afternoon. Total students helped: 78.

We have more Success students at UMass Amherst than any other college, which is challenging because the campus is 2 ½ hours away. Organizing these campus visits is quite a production: for this visit, eight counselors are at UMass for two days. We left Boston at 9:00 am this morning, and won’t get back until almost 6:00 pm tomorrow. These visits are long, but they’re also fun: last visit, we hosted a campus social (with pizza!) for students in the evening, and this visit, counselors are already plotting post-meeting dinner plans. These two day expeditions occur four or five times per semester.

It’s midterm season at UMass, so we’re focusing on academics with all first years and sophomores. We’re also meeting with other students to discuss study skills, start job planning, and solve bill issues. Overall, students seem stressed but happy: the biggest complaint from first years so far is the amount of walking required to traverse the huge campus.

I’ve met with three students today. My first student, Jenea, is a sophomore and just transferred from MCLA. I was her counselor last year, too, and I helped her complete the transfer process.  Although we’ve checked in over the phone, this was my first time seeing her on campus since she started at UMass, so it was great to hear that she’s doing so well.  She’s majoring in Theater, likes her classes, and already has a lot of friends on campus. She’s been doing well in all of her classes except one, so we looked up the professor’s office hours, and I showed her where tutoring is on campus. I also met with two seniors who are starting the job search process; one student is looking for environmental or government jobs, and the other wants to work as a parole officer. I’m excited to see where they end up after graduation.

That’s all from UMass; check back soon for more updates!

Jen Bees

Success Coordinator

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The Social Innovation Fund has become the focus of a lot of attention recently. This $50 Million initiative, approved as part of the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, has created an opportunity for organizations to access significant government funding and publicity if they have innovative and effective programs. It just so happens that Bottom Line does have innovative and effective programs, and so for the first time, we find ourselves pursuing public funding.

In the past, we have been happy to entirely fund our programs from private sources. We stayed away from public funding because the opportunities were almost always either too focused or too broad, and they came with strings attached that would have forced us to change our programs. But now, this fund isn’t looking to restrict what programs are doing. Instead, they are looking to take good ideas and allow them to grow. It’s a whole new ballgame for public funding, and for the first time we feel like we have a chance. We have strong evidence supporting the fact that our programs make a significant difference in the lives of our students. We are focused on an issue that is gaining attention, but has far too few solutions being discussed. This is the right time for Bottom Line to gain a voice in the discussion about how to help students succeed at the national level.

The Social Innovation Fund would provide this opportunity. The funds are being distributed by intermediary organizations who are matching the government funding. We are in the process of applying to two of these organizations, New Profit and the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation. If we are chosen to receive either award, it would mean millions of dollars and invaluable publicity for our organization and our program model. This will be an incredibly rigorous and competitive process, and it feels like a long-shot because there are so many applicants and so few will be chosen. But, we are confident in our programs, their proven effectiveness, their ability to solve a national crisis, and so Bottom Line really does fit with the spirit and the mission of this fund. Hopefully we’re not the only ones who think so.

Mike Wasserman

Director of Development

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