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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Sonia Essaibi - New York Counselor

Sonia Essaibi – New York Counselor

It’s a fun time of year to be at Bottom Line, and I know it’s just going to get better and better. Bottom Line helped over 200 New York City students put their stars on the “I HIT SUBMIT!” wall and will continue to work with them on the path to making a responsible choice of which college to attend next year.  In the midst of all this energy, we are also thinking about those students, who in just a few short months will be in our current high school seniors’ shoes. We are going to serve an additional 100 more students bringing our total to 300 high school students in the Class of 2014.

The Outreach Team has begun putting word out that we are accepting applications for the Class of 2014 in a big way. As a first-year counselor at Bottom Line, it’s been a great experience so far. We’re reaching out to school personnel with whom we already have relationships and forging new ones to expand our reach in order to help more and more eligible students. These students should live in New York City, have at least an 80 GPA, come from a low-income family, being the first generation of their family to earn a bachelor’s degree in the United States, and be U.S. Citizens or Permanent Residents.

Our current high school seniors are also spreading the word by telling their junior friends. This year, we are piloting “Student Ambassadors,” seniors who will spread the word about our program to juniors at their high schools. To date, we’ve reached out to more than 25 current seniors to see who would like to be a part of this student-led outreach approach.  Then, applicants can indicate on their Bottom Line applications that they heard about our program from one of these Ambassadors. It’s a fun competition for the Ambassadors, too- whoever receives the most referrals by June 1st wins a $50 gift card!

We’ve also started doing presentations at area high schools in Brooklyn, Manhattan, and the Bronx. The Outreach Team is planning to conduct over fifteen presentations across the city to publicize our program. Our goal is to talk to juniors about the services Bottom Line provides.  Additionally, we also discuss the college admissions process in general so they are better prepared as they embark on this life-directing process of college applications. Students are engaged during our presentations and ask great questions.  Students learn important milestones, for example the almost universal college decision day of May 1st. After discussing all the steps along that timeline the reactions on the students’ faces are priceless. They see themselves using our help and it shows in our numbers. We’ve just begun and we’ve already had 116 students apply!

 – Sonia Essaibi

Bottom Line – New York Counselor

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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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Sheryl giving some advice to a recent alum.

Sheryl giving some advice to a recent alum.

On January 10th, we hosted our annual Go Far Forum at the Westin Copley Place Hotel in downtown Boston. The Go Far Forum is a unique career fair hosted for Bottom Line students which provides an opportunity for students to make meaningful connections with professionals and employers in various career fields. This may have been my first Go Far Forum, but I dare say it was bigger and better than ever. We hosted over 320 Bottom Line students and alumni and 100 volunteers.

I watched the students arrive and become wide-eyed as they realized that this was all for them. I welcomed the seniors that I work with and calmed their nerves as they told me what they were nervous about and who they were excited to meet. Each student was dressed professionally and carried with them a prepared and polished resume and a practiced elevator pitch. When I saw these same students at the end of the night, they had been transformed. Beaming with self-confidence, they eagerly told me all about whom they had met and who took their resume at the career fair. This is the type of confidence that makes a difference in a job interview and helps launch a career. This is exactly the confidence I wanted to see.  I wasn’t the only one who was impressed by our students.

One employer said, “Bottom Line students know what they want and are proactive and determined.” Another volunteer in the round table discussion room told me that he could see our program at work. “My first table was full of freshman and in the next round my table was full of juniors and seniors. I could see their growth. Your program really works. I could see it.”  This feedback was great to hear and affirmed my pride and confidence in the impact that Bottom Line makes.

This year, we welcomed over twenty employers to the career fair, and added three professional organizations. Employers included Boston Children’s Hospital, Draper Laboratory, EMC, Liberty Mutual, State Street, Teach for America, Senator Kerry’s Office, Boston Lawyers Group, and Target, just to name a few. We also welcomed the National Association of Asian American Professionals, the Association of Latino Professionals in Finance and Accounting, and The Partnership, Inc.  Bottom Line has created amazing partnerships and many of our students receive internship and job opportunities from this event.

Each student participated in round table discussions where they received feedback on their resumes from senior human resources professionals and a mock interview with seasoned professionals in multiple fields. Each career field was also represented in a special “Career Conversations” lounge, where students could explore their interests and talk to professionals in each field to learn how they got started and receive advice about how they can follow their path.

The Go Far Forum is an opportunity for our students to realize their potential and to start believing in themselves. The opportunity to receive feedback on mock interviews and resumes from professionals in the field is invaluable. Students who attended the event gained confidence, connections, and a more definite career plan.

– Sheryl Rosenberg, Career Counselor

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Every year, Bottom Line hosts the Go Far Forum, the premier career event for our Massachusetts college students. With close to 130 volunteers, over 20 employers, and hundreds of students in attendance at the Westin Copley Place Hotel, this year’s event was a big success.  Attendees took part in mock interviews, a career fair, workshops, and a networking social that helped students build job searching skills and make connections.

Career Conversations, a key piece of the event, helped students who wanted information about different career paths. Volunteers who work in fields such as Health Care, Political Science, and Business responded to students’ questions: Why did you choose your major? What was your career path?  What advice do you have for me as I choose my major?  Through these conversations, students were not only able to make informed career decisions, but also further build their communication skills, an essential part of the transition from a student to a young professional. One volunteer said, “ The participants were articulate, bright, excellent people. Their questions were well thought out and I enjoyed talking to all of them.”

Most importantly, the Go Far Forum provided hundreds of students from Boston and Worcester with the support, advice, and opportunities they need to succeed in the job market after graduation. One student said, “I learned a lot from the Go Far Forum, especially from the mock interviews and the career conversations. I am glad I attended.”

Thank you to all the volunteers who made this event possible.

Victoria Sargent
Career Coordinator

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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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Admin Assistant Ty Streeter holding Bottom Line's award

College Board announced the winners of their annual Innovation Awards for the New England region during the College Board New England Regional Forum on February 3, 2011. Bottom Line was given an award under the category of “Getting Through” for our College Success Program. Program Coordinator Justin Strasburger accepted this award on behalf of Bottom Line at the event.

This is the second award Bottom Line has received in the last six months for our efforts to boost the college completion rates of low-income and first-generation students in Massachusetts. The program that College Board has recognized provides one-on-one guidance to students in academic, employment, financial, and personal areas during college. The personalized support that Bottom Line offers has helped 73% of the college students in this program graduate in 6 years or less, a rate nearly three times what is typical among underrepresented students.

Criteria for the Innovation Award included the impact of services and the potential for the program model to be replicated and adapted by other organizations, institutions, educators, and policymakers. Bottom Line is pleased to have been selected based on these characteristics.

Boston Executive Director Greg Johnson says, “We are proud to be the recipient of this award and represent the values that the CollegeKeys Compact upholds.” The Compact is a coalition of schools, colleges, state agencies, and non-profit organizations that aims to identify, share, and intensify ways to address the needs and challenges of increasing access and success for low-income students. “Bottom Line is an important solution to the college completion problem and we hope this award from College Board is another vehicle for us to share our methods,” says Mr. Johnson.

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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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