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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Success Counselor Ali Lincoln and her student, Robert

Senior Success Counselor Ali Lincoln and her student, Robert

It’s financial aid renewal season for Bottom Line Success counselors, and as many of our first-year students are finding out, it’s something that happens every year of college. Initially, it seems like a piece of cake, since there’s only one school to worry about instead of the ten schools they applied to last year.  However, financial aid renewal is a multi-step process for most of our students that typically drags on throughout the whole semester. Even within the same school, some students have different requirements, and my email inbox has been steadily filling with panicked messages about missing documents, requirements that have already been fulfilled (or so a student thought), and upcoming deadlines.

Counselors start by looking at deadlines for each school that they work with, and make sure to schedule time to help students file their initial FAFSA before each deadline. Essentially, resubmitting information from the current school year’s Student Aid Report shows intent to attend and receive aid the following school year.  Schools want to ensure that each student receives the aid that they deserve and they each decide how the student proves their income.  The school may require an online or paper form sent, a tax transcript submitted, CSS Profile, or IDOC be completed to confirm income.  Accordingly, Bottom Line counselors review these ever-changing financial aid applications with our students.

After students and their households have received 2012 W2s, 1099s, and filed their taxes, counselors help students update their FAFSAs. Students may be selected for a process called verification, and be required to submit additional forms, their passport, or tax transcripts. Some students are able to use the Data Retrieval Tool, which directly links tax information from the IRS to the FAFSA. Not every student can use this, and then they need to request tax transcripts online, over the phone, or in person. Often, the deadlines for these follow-up steps aren’t as clear as the priority financial aid deadline at a school, but delays in these steps can severely affect a student’s aid for the following year.

Financial aid renewal is an intimidating process; missing a step or turning in something late jeopardizes a student’s ability to pay for school. Bottom Line counselors diligently help students through every step of this long, annual process, and we’re also working to help our students become better self advocates and take on more personal responsibility when it comes to financial aid. We’re helping them stay on top of deadlines, coaching them through calls with financial aid, showing them where to find the forms they need and how to fill them out, and following up to make sure that all of their questions are answered. It’s a lot of work, but staying in school and on track to graduate is a great motivator!

– Ali Lincoln

Senior Success Counselor – Worcester, MA

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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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Here in New York, our counselors have the opportunity of working with both our high students in our College Access Program and our college students in the College Success Program.  December is a stressful time for all of our students, and as counselors, we are charged with helping them see that their hard work will help achieve an end goal – whether that is submitting their college applications or excelling on finals.

 

Many of our college students are nervous and stressed out about final exams, unsure of exactly what to expect and eager to end the semester on a positive note. After Thanksgiving we have ventured to all our campuses to meet our students for “Finals Prep,” where we gather information about upcoming finals and create a study plan unique to each class. Ideally, our students leave these meetings knowing exactly what stands between them and the end of the semester, and have a detailed calendar and plan on how to excel on their exams. Because of Hurricane Sandy’s visit, these meetings are especially crucial since our students must seek out information about finals that have changed due to their impromptu week off from school.

 

New York Counselor Victoria Hulit with studentsMeanwhile, as we are prepping our college students for their finals, we are also helping our high school students submit all of their college applications! These “Packaging” meetings are an exciting and stressful time for our students. We reassure them that they will get into college and their essays are perfect. Coaching students to press the “submit” button is often a process that requires patience and encouragement – clicking that one button changes each student’s life trajectory. The smile on our students’ faces as they hang up their star on the “I Hit Submit” wall is worth every second of essay editing or common app review. Some of our students are already receiving acceptance letters. These letters are confirmation that their hard work was worth it and bring further excitement that their dreams of being the first in their family to attend college are becoming a reality.

 

Visiting our college students on campus gives the counselors in NY an inside perspective on many of the colleges on our high school students’ lists. This information helps us provide our access students with more detail about the student experience at each school, and ultimately informs where we encourage students to apply and attend.

-Victoria Hulit

Bottom Line Counselor, New York

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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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While finally picking a college and mailing out a deposit is relieving, there’s plenty left to do to ensure that a student can officially begin college. Fulfilling final requirements to enroll in the fall and planning for the transition to college should be a top priority. Here’s the steps a student should take over the summer to successfully begin freshman year:


-May

Set up your email account and online system log in.
Your school has probably already started to send you important emails at your school account! Make sure you are aware of them. If you have trouble logging in, call your college’s IT department.

Sign up for on-campus orientation. This may be your first chance to meet classmates, become familiar with your campus, and get excited about college! While orientation is often mandatory, it will introduce you to the college life and help you feel more comfortable there come September.

Complete housing forms (if you will live on campus). This paperwork ensures that your dorm and roommate are good matches for you. Housing forms should be mailed to you by your college. Contact your school’s Residential Life office if you do not receive them.

Sign up for a payment plan (if necessary). A payment plan will help you manage your bills and ensure your tuition is paid on time. These plans can typically be set up online, but call your Financial Aid office if you need assistance.


-June

Submit a final transcript and any AP score records.
These documents should be sent to your college’s Admissions Office by your high school guidance counselor. For that reason, try to get this done before school is out for the summer.

Schedule a doctor’s appointment. Required health and immunization forms must be completed by your doctor and submitted to your college. These forms should be mailed to you, but they can also be found on your school’s Health Services webpage. Be sure to tell your doctor that you need a check-up for college since he/she will need to sign several forms.


-July-
Finalize your payment plan. Make sure you know how you will pay your bill for the fall semester and the remainder of the year. Payment plans can typically be changed online or through your Financial Aid office.

Complete loan paperwork. If you have loans, you need to fill out the appropriate forms to release the funds to your college. Completing this now will ensure a balance isn’t left on your account when the semester begins.

Complete health insurance paperwork. Whether you will receive health insurance through your college, the state, or your family’s policy, you need to inform your college of this decision. These forms can typically be found on your college’s website or at the Health Services Center.

Take any required placement tests. Many schools require students to complete math placement tests. This ensures that you will be enrolled in a class level that suits your current abilities rather than a course that you may find overly challenging or under-engaging.

Apply for work study jobs (if applicable). Work study is a great way to earn some money on campus. These jobs fill up quickly, so apply ASAP! Work study jobs are typically listed on your school’s website.


-August-
Prepare for move-in day. If you are living on campus, you will need to go shopping for dorm room supplies. While this can be stressful and costly, don’t forget to have fun as you prepare for your new life!

 

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Mock Interviews at Bottom Line's 2009 Go Far Forum

In two weeks, Bottom Line will host the annual Go Far Forum, a student event that features a career fair, mock interviews, presentations from industry leaders, and (new this year) a networking reception. All the planning for this event has got us thinking, Why is it important to help college students with their professional development and careers? Below are four things Bottom Line focuses on helping students in our College Success Program with to promote their success after graduation.

1. Interviewing
With few exceptions, most undergraduates will never be assigned homework that requires them to undergo a professional interview—the kind where you have to answer abstract questions that indicate your work ethic and team-working abilities, wear a modest pencil skirt or tie, and generally present yourself as a polished and qualified individual. This just isn’t part of the curriculum for an engineering program or a humanities degree.

While some colleges require students to take a speech class where they learn how to speak confidently and make eye contact, promoting oneself to a potential employer can be remarkably different than giving a presentation in class. You need to be prepared to answer difficult questions, such as why a company should hire you over someone else, why you left your last job, and how your studies have prepared you for the industry. Unless they seek the advice of a mentor or their school’s career center, a college student will probably not be asked one of those questions until they land in a job interview. Furthermore, many jobs that students interview for prior to completing their degree don’t require the same preparation and skill set that an interview for a post-graduate job does.

2. Networking
College is a great place for learning how to mingle in social settings, but not necessarily professional ones. It’s possible to spend an entire college career traveling between class, a lax on-campus job, your dorm or home, and the occasional gathering with friends without experiencing a business social setting. This is another place—other than the job interview—where college students could develop the skills of tactful self-promotion and professional confidence. When a student leaves college, being able to network would greatly benefit their job search and general success in the business world.

3. Dressing Professionally
When you’re a teenager, you can get away with wearing an ill-considered outfit, even if you’re filing or answering phones in an office. But when you’re an adult with a college degree who is applying for jobs that require you to represent someone’s business, an employer will be looking for you to look the part. Most college students spend their days in jeans (if not their pajamas) and don’t necessarily have a reason to own an iron or lint remover. In fact, these details probably escape you when what you’re wearing is irrelevant to completing a 12-page paper or passing an exam. For this reason, exposure to a business setting can be important for college students to learn how to carry themselves professionally.

4. Exploring (Realistic) Post-Graduation Options
While professors may impart how your schoolwork will help you in the working world, it’s not always clear how spending twenty-something hours a week in a classroom translates to you being qualified to work in the field. For English or History majors, it may not even be clear what kinds of jobs you should pursue.

Exposing college students to their field through meaningful internships or introducing them to successful professionals can show them their options, give them a feel for what they may like to pursue, and allow them to make informed decisions when they graduate rather than searching blindly for a career path. Many college graduates would probably say it would have been nice to know which industries could use their talents, what the salary offerings are like, and how much more schooling they would need to land their dream job, prior to entering the working world. Information about what employers are looking for allows graduating seniors to set appropriate goals, whether that means attending graduate school to become a psychologist or climbing the career ladder from an editorial assistant to an editor in the publishing world.

While Bottom Line doesn’t expect to impart all of this wisdom to our college students in a 3-hour event, we hope that the 2011 Go Far Forum offers a great jumpstart for them to prepare for their careers. In the coming months, we will help our students write resumes and cover letters, apply for summer jobs and internships, and get one step closer to becoming confident professionals and pursuing fulfilling careers.

Jen Bees
Success Coordinator

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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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