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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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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For Class of 2012 high school seniors, the past month has been full of college decisions. After months of hard work and waiting, students finally get to survey their options and choose a college that suits them. At Bottom Line, we spend a lot of time talking about “finding a fit” – meaning a college that meets a student’s academic, financial, career, and personal needs. Affordability is an integral part of this discussion. By enrolling in a college that meets their financial needs, a student can complete a degree without accumulating an excessive amount of debt. In many cases, Bottom Line advises students to enroll in full-need schools, such as College of the Holy Cross and Tufts University, or state schools, such as UMass Boston and Worcester State University, which have a low cost of attendance.

Ariana Campos of University Park Campus School in Worcester (below) is just one student who, we are proud to say, has found her fit! After getting accepted to all 9 of the schools she applied to, and after looking over her award letters with Bottom Line, she was glad to find out that she can graduate debt-free from Harvard University. We are excited to help all 785 seniors from Massachusetts and New York choose a school in the coming weeks.

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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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Last Wednesday, 100 guests joined us at Mechanics Hall in Worcester for our third annual Get In, Graduate, and Go Far Reception. Now in our fourth year of operation in Worcester, Bottom Line has continued to grow and expand: we serve 150 high school students and 165 college students locally. On Wednesday, we were lucky enough to hear the stories of two of those students, Crismel Calderon (a senior at Assumption College) and Fredery Muñoz (a first-year at College of the Holy Cross). Their stories of resilience remind us why we all support Worcester’s youth. Thank you to the Worcester community for helping us guide Crismel, Fredery, and hundreds of other determined students to and through college. Below are videos of Crismel and Fredery’s speeches.

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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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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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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.

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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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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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