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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Greetings from España!

It has been a very long time since my last blog post and a lot has happened between the final days of school until now. I was able to successfully finish off the school year and enjoy my summer vacation by going to the Dominican Republic and working at Bottom Line with the high school class of 2012. Working with all of the students was very rewarding and it was difficult knowing that I would not be working with them for the rest of the year, but I had to leave the comfort of my family and Bottom Line in order to make the very bold decision to study abroad!

Ever since I was in high school I knew I was interested in going abroad, but never thought I was adventurous enough to actually do it. With the help of some of the Bottom Line counselors, I decided to apply to the program at my school. I am glad to say that I stuck with it and I am now currently in Pamplona, Spain, doing a 3-week orientation program. I will be spending the next year (yes, year!) in Spain with the study abroad program at my school. After the orientation is over, I will be headed with 8 other Holy Cross students to the amazing island of Mallorca, where I will be living with a host family and taking classes towards my majors at the local university. Although it is very terrifying and still feels like a dream, I am looking forward to the year ahead of me. I’ve spoken to many students who have gone through the study abroad experience and they all have nothing but great things to say, so I know I too will enjoy everything that a new country has to offer.

I know a lot of students will probably question whether or not they would also like to go abroad. My best advice is to just talk to people. Talk to your Bottom Line counselor or advisor (I would not be here if it was not for my old counselor, Marilyn), talk to students who have gone abroad, and make sure to talk to the Study Abroad Department at your school! Studying abroad is not for everyone, but if you think it is for you, I would just take the chance and apply. You can always decide not to go even after you have been accepted into the program! A lot of schools also offer Summer Abroad or Semester Abroad programs, which are perfect for students who want to go abroad, but do not want to go for very long or cannot go for a year because their major does not allow them.

Let me know what you think about studying abroad!

Kristie

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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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Greetings from UMass Lowell!

As a brand new target college for Bottom Line, UMass Lowell presents some unique challenges for college counselors. Our inaugural class here is comprised of eleven students, all of whom are first-years. Each student is assigned to one counselor, Rachel Smith, who has very busy days when she visits campus at least once a month.

Bottom Line student Leon Shaw gives a tour of UMass Lowell

Bottom Line student Leon Shaw gives a tour of UMass Lowell

For many of our students, going to college is a huge step and one that is not always easy to take. Our first-year students often require a lot of support and we devote a great deal of our time to making sure that the transition is as smooth as possible. Today we are on campus to make sure all of our students have a study plan for finals and have registered for spring semester classes.

I am on campus today to support Rachel so that we can see all eleven students. I just finished meeting with Jamal Grant who was one of my high school students last year. It was great to see Jamal. He just finished his first ever season of crew and enjoyed himself despite the early wake-ups and cold mornings on the Merrimack River. He is also doing well in classes despite a difficult major: Mechanical Engineering.

Many of our students here are majoring in engineering fields, which means lots of science and math classes. (As a political science graduate, this sounds awful to me!) But our students here are dedicated and doing their best to connect with the academic resources they need to succeed.

Since UMass Lowell was a new school for Bottom Line’s College Success Program, it was important for our staff to learn the campus and develop connections with the various academic and administrative departments so that we can best serve our students. Over the summer, a team of Bottom Line counselors visited UMass Lowell and met with representatives from a variety of offices, including Financial Aid, Health Services, Academic Support Services, and Career Services. The staff members we have met in these offices have proved invaluable over the course of this semester. Countless times, Rachel has given Christine Robbins a call to discuss a student’s financial aid issue or emailed Maureen Souza to help a student find a work-study job. Having people on campus who understand Bottom Line’s program and mission makes our jobs much easier because it allows us to get fast answers to student problems.

We’ll be checking in with our UMass Lowell students again after the semester ends to assess their progress and address any challenges they’re facing. Hopefully we will hear good news about their semester grades!

Check back soon for more updates from the field.

Justin Strasburger
Transition Coordinator

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“Over the past three decades, our nation has witnessed great increases in college-going rates—no doubt due in part to widespread efforts by education policymakers and college access practitioners. Yet despite progress, just over half of students enrolled in four-year institutions graduate within six years (NCES 2009).”

This disparity between college access and college success rates was the motivation for the Pathways to College Network (directed by the Institute for Higher Education Policy) and the National College Access Network to release a “Research to Practice Brief” on how social supports and self-efficacy affect the success of underrepresented student populations. The brief is part of the Pathways to College Network’s effort to promote the need for college retention support services that address both the academic and social needs of college students. To learn more about the college success field, they called on Bottom Line.

Bottom Line believes as the Pathways to College Network does: that students need to be supported as both academic achievers and, well,  as human beings. That’s why our College Success Program model focuses on four areas (academics, employment, financial aid, and emotional wellbeing), not simply academics. As the brief states, “In Bottom Line’s experience, the more confident its students are in their preparation and the more supported the students feel, the more likely they are to succeed in college.”

To learn more about the role of social support and self-efficacy in college retention, read a summary of the brief or the full brief.

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