Category: In the News
Seniors to get post-secondary planning help

For 2nd year, nonprofits work with HPS seniors to prepare for college or career  

Once again, the ALL IN! Coalition of nonprofit partners, Hartford Public Schools staff, and philanthropy are launching a program to help those students not engaged in post-secondary planning by this time of their senior year. Guidance counselors from nine high schools identified 122 seniors expected to graduate this spring without any formal post-secondary plan for college, trade school, the military or a career.  

Success for this program will be measured by three major outcomes. By reaching out to all 122 seniors identified by HPS, the program will achieve: 

  • 80% enrollment and participation in the program (n=98), 
  • 80% postsecondary plan template + Naviance task completion rate by June graduation (n=78) 
  • 40% summer program enrollment rate (Summer Youth Employment, college bridge program, etc.) (n=49) 
  • 62% placement rate (2- or 4-year college, certification, trade, military or good job with potential by Sept. 16) (n=61) 
  • Partner community-based organizations – Center for Latino Progress, Blue Hills Civic Association and ReadyCT – have been gearing up to reach out to the students and engage them with the post-secondary planning program.

From February to June, the nonprofits’ staff will work on mentoring, planning and skill-building. From July through mid-September, the mentoring and skill-building will continue and community partners will work with graduates to help place them in their chosen career, college or training pathway by late summer. This involves helping the recent graduates overcome any barriers such as financial, logistical or language. The key here will be consistency of support from now through September to make sure they launch a post-secondary career pathway of some kind. 

This year, depending on students’ needs and schedules, community-based organizations’ staff will meet with students in their high schools during the school day, after school and/or, if necessary, off-site. The student intake process will involve the following: assessing career interests; screening academic readiness; capturing current contact information; meeting their assigned staff person; selecting workshops they are interested in attending; agreeing to a day and time to connect weekly; explaining incentives they can earn for each milestone; and handing out their first incentive.  

We will report more once the program is fully underway, and the mentoring, skill-building and planning begins. This program would not be possible without the Travelers Foundation, Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, The Hartford, Lincoln Financial, Liberty Bank, H.A. Vance Foundation and Social Venture Partners; we thank them for funding last year’s project and for coming together again for this year’s seniors. 

CT Community College Enrollment Drops, Exceeding National Trend

Since the pandemic, community college enrollment nationally has declined more than 13%. Last fall, despite the Covid-19 vaccines, community college enrollment dropped 3.4%, part of a national dip in undergraduate enrollment over the last year, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. Community college enrollment nationally has been slipping each of the past five years, with the biggest dip in the fall of 2020 – a 10.1% decline.

College enrollment at all colleges – public, private, 2-year and 4-year – fell by about 3% last year, but the sharper declines at 2-year colleges suggest more low-income, first-generation students who typically attend community college are at greater risk of having their higher education goals deferred indefinitely.

In Connecticut, community college enrollment has dropped at a greater rate than the national average. In the fall of 2021, enrollment at the state’s community colleges declined by 4.7%, for a total enrollment of 36,238, according to the National Student Clearinghouse. In the fall of 2020, enrollment plunged by 15.3%, with enrollment at 38,032.

The dip in community colleges enrollment “is the continuation of a trend that has been on-going since probably 2017-2018 when enrollments in community colleges peaked,” says Sara Vincent, interim regional director of recruitment, admissions and community outreach, Capital-East Region, Connecticut Community Colleges. “There is a nationwide decline of traditional high-school aged students.  That, coupled with the pandemic, a relatively low unemployment number – community college enrollments tend to ebb and flow with unemployment trends – and competing priorities of home and work life, have all contributed to the enrollment decline in different ways.”

The biggest barriers to starting and persisting in community college are the cost of college and the demands of home life and work, she says. In addition, during the pandemic, students’ lack of access to Wi-Fi and laptops presented an added challenge for many; some of those with the technology struggled to succeed with online coursework, she says.

Community colleges are typically the least expensive college option, but during the pandemic, many students have had to work to support their families and/or provide childcare, so they’ve had to postpone college. Some students’ parents lost their jobs or had health conditions that made working on the front lines extremely risky so students took full-time jobs rather than start college. Others stepped in to help care for nieces and nephews whose day care centers had closed or who needed supervision for doing school from home while their parents worked.

Community colleges have tried to provide multiple supports to help students attend college and succeed, in spite of these barriers, Vincent says. Students who take a minimum of 6 credits are eligible for financial aid so they can attend part time.

“There is also a more focused approach on holistic student support models and providing more embedded support in the services that students are receiving at the community college level,” she says.  The new Guided Pathways Advising model and the Holistic Case Management approach that were adopted by the system office are two big changes that address this, she says. 

This is why Achieve Hartford is so grateful for the support from our funders that allows us to provide peer mentors to guide community college students from underserved communities, says Paul Diego Holzer, executive director. “Students who are low-income and first-generation tend to begin their college education at community colleges, and the fact that enrollment at these colleges has dropped even more than at four-year colleges may delay or defer a whole generation’s chance to attain higher education and the financial opportunities an education affords.”

HSIP Class of 2021 Pilot Project: Despite challenges, 92 HPS grads helped

To address the added challenges of reaching Hartford Public Schools seniors who were learning remotely, members of the ALL IN! coalition joined together last winter to try to help 347 seniors who were thought, at the time, to be without post-secondary plans. A year later, we can report on what happened to the seniors from nine high schools served by the program that officially ended in June 2021 but continued for many until Jan. 31. 

The HSIP Class of 2021 program began in the middle of February 2021, and high school staff identified the seniors in need of post-secondary planning. With oversight from Connecticut Workforce Partners, two community-based organizations – Center for Latino Progress and Blue Hills Civic Association – worked to reach out to the students (by any means necessary) and engage them with the pilot post-secondary planning program. After two months of street outreach, the nonprofits’ staff worked on mentoring, planning and skill-building.  

From July through mid-September, the mentoring and skill-building continued for those seniors choosing to enroll in Summer Youth Employment, with community partners working with high school graduates to help place them in their chosen career, college or training pathway by late summer. This involved helping the recent graduates overcome any barriers, including loss of a parent or guardian, homelessness or other financial hardship. 

Out of the 347 students identified, 92 students, (26%,) participated in the program. This fall, partners reached back out to students to make sure they made it through their fall placement, and, in some cases, started their placement. In total, they were able to reconnect with 62 recent graduates experiencing the following factors as the top obstacles to success:  

  • Managing their finances. 
  • English language skills. 
  • Jobs with too few hours and the need to find more paid hours or work. 
  • Jobs with too many hours that made it difficult to balance school and family. 
  • Lack of role models or motivation. 
  • Lack of post-secondary options awareness and how to transition to college, apprenticeships, etc. 
  • Lack of knowledge and understanding of the college financial aid process once in college. 

When we look at these 62 students as a snapshot, we find the following outcomes: 

  • 16 students attending 4-year college. 
  • 20 students attending 2-year college. 
  • 4 students enrolled in a job training program. 
  • 1 student in the military.  
  • 21 students in a job that offered meaningful advancement. 

Incredibly, for about $3,750 per student, community partners helped these students enroll in college or start the path to a career with a livable wage because of the consistent and tenacious support of staff who either knew the students already or got to know them. Many of these students are now on a trajectory to get out of poverty, where the difference between a career earning $12 an hour and $17 an hour for 92 students is the equivalent of $956,800 more income annually.  

As the HSIP Class of 2021 project wound down on Jan. 31, and a new Class of 2022 project was being designed, the partners concluded the following regarding any future work with this population: 

  1. Developing longer-term relationships is the key to helping these students make progress, because once a student is disconnected, it is almost impossible to reconnect. 
  2. Programmatic continuity is a necessity to get stronger return on investment, because when a nonprofit must shift focus away from current students and toward wherever new funding suggests, impact at the level we all want to see is simply not possible. 
  3. This work cannot be cookie-cutter; it must be differentiated to suit the needs of each student, and providers must be able to deliver an array of services to address unique needs. 
  4. Staff who are connected to the community they serve are key to bypassing the layers of trust barriers that exist when serving these students and their families. 
  5. Having a broad network of community referral partners allows students to get exposed to all that is out there and to stay supported by community resources after a program ends. 
  6. The 1:1 time that these students get is where real progress gets made in addressing challenges, crafting genuine post-secondary plans, and getting all the way to placement. 

“What we heard loud and clear from the partners,” says Paul Diego Holzer, executive director of Achieve Hartford, “is that this work is very high-touch, and even though it came so late in senior year, referring to it as low-touch doesn’t do it justice.”  

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