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

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

kendall blog pickIn the Boston office we have 503 high school students that Bottom Line is helping through the college admissions and financial aid processes.  Most of the high school seniors that we work with have packaged their college applications and placed their star on our “I Hit Submit!” wall.  In fact by December 21,492 of our students had completed their applications.  We have switched gears for the most part and are focusing on financial aid (ie the FAFSA and the CSS Profile).

A few of our students, however, are still in the process of applying to college.  In the case of my student, Stefani, the path to putting her star on the “I Hit Submit!” wall was a tough one.  In the fall of her senior year, difficult family circumstances caused Stefani to fall behind in school to the point where she had to postpone the college application process in order to focus on passing her high school classes.  While she would likely graduate from high school, she did not think she could go to college.  She was told by many adults in her life that that perhaps a year or two at community college after high school would be the best path for her. 

 

Not knowing this, I continued to reach out to Stefani asking her to come back to Bottom Line and to see if she wanted help applying for college.  Sometimes the most important thing I do as a Bottom Line Counselor is provide steady, positive coaching, telling my students that they can do it.

When I sent Stefani an email after winter break to ask her where she was at and when she may want to meet, she was in a completely different place.  She was no longer the overwhelmed student who had given up the dream of attending a four-year college.  She told me that her mindset had completely changed and that, despite the challenging circumstances in her life, she had started to turn things around in school and was no longer in danger of not graduating. 

 Then, she asked me if it was too late for her to apply to college.  While she was literally months behind her peers, we were able to work together and she was able to make many of her colleges February 1st deadlines.  Although her colleges’ application process has not followed the traditional route here at Bottom Line, in a few short days Stefani was finally able to put her star on our “I Hit Submit” wall – a testament to her perseverance.

– Kendall Hiedman

Boston Access Counselor

, , , , , ,
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

, , , , , , , , , , ,

NY Program Director Ginette Saimprevil meets with a student

 

It’s been a very difficult few weeks in New York City.  As you know, New York was hit by Hurricane Sandy on October 30th, devestating  many parts of our area.  Thankfully, here at Bottom Line we were relatively unharmed – our building did not lose heat or power in the storm.  Our hearts go out to our students, friends, family and others across the City who have suffered enormous losses from the storm.

 

The Bottom Line New York office closed for a couple of days immediately before and after the storm, but by Wednesday of that week, the counselors who could make it to the office – whether by foot, bike or bus – were there, calling and meeting with as many students as possible.  Our staff missed seven college visits during the week of the storm.  Some were made up through phone check-ins, and many were rescheduled for the following week.  We also missed over 30 Access meetings.  All of these meetings were rescheduled within a week of being missed – counselors worked extra days over the weekend, and our Program Director stepped in to pick up almost a full week’s worth of meetings.

 

We were able to make contact with all of our students and, thankfully, most were fine. However, a few of our students were greatly affected by the storm, and we are working to get them the help they need.  One thing we’re doing immediately is a professional clothing drive for students and families who lost belongings.   Although many subways, bridges and tunnels were closed for over a week after the hurricane, the Bottom Line office has been packed with students, and counselors have been coming in early and staying late into the evening to help students complete their college applications and stay on track with their school work.  We never cease to be amazed by our students who, no matter the obstacle, continue to stay focused on their goals.

 

Things are finally feeling almost back to normal for most people in NY, although a few communities continue to struggle without heat or power.  We are grateful for our relative good fortune and so proud of the way our team pulled together.

– Ruth Genn

Executive Director, NY

, , ,

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

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,