An Amazon for social services

Single Stop, known for helping low-income community college students access benefits, is designing software to help people find aid online. That will include student grants and loans, Medicaid, unemployment insurance, food stamps and food pantries, reports Co.Exist.

Single Stop will continue to provide in-person counseling, but expects some users will be able to access help on their own.

“There are many resources are out there, but one of the biggest problems is a lack of coordination, information, and access,” says Elisabeth Mason, chief executive of Single Stop. She compares the software platform to a one-stop shopping resource like Amazon, where visitors can put all the items they want in a virtual shopping cart and check out at the end. Single Stop is also leveraging lessons learned from the advertising industry about how to predict what people will want when they visit the site, the same way that Target can figure out whether a given customer is pregnant.

The pilot will focus on clients looking for college aid and other social services. In New York, Single Stop may also target veterans and clients seeking child care and preschool help.

Clients are asked a short series of questions (family income, ZIP code, etc.), mention the types benefits they’re interested in, and are instantly given an estimate of what they’re eligible to receive each year–say, $3,000 for health insurance, $6,100 in federal and state aid for college tuition, and so on.

. . . Like Amazon, the site offers other recommendations for services based on what similar clients are interested in (i.e If you need help with food, maybe you’d also be interested in unemployment insurance).

Single Stop may add video chats for clients who need more assistance.

Community colleges have partnered with the national nonprofit to open on-campus offices. When low-income students access benefits, they’re more likely to stay in school.

For needy students, a Single Stop for aid

Homeless, Jason showered at the gym at Borough of Manhattan Community College. After class, he did his homework in the library, then slept in a quiet corner. When the library closed, he rode the subway all night. Failing three of his four classes, he asked for help at Single Stop, which connects low-income people with a wide array of government benefits.  Deborah Harte got him off the streets, reports the New York Times.

She got him enrolled in SNAP, the federal food stamp program, and health insurance. He got financial counseling — “I want to be an accountant, so I want to make sure my credit’s O.K.,” he said. He did his taxes and filed a FAFSA — the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. She got him a work-study job. (He was already working part time as an usher at Radio City.) Most important, Harte called someone she knew who worked in real estate and got him a room he could afford, with a shared kitchen and bathroom, in a house in East Flatbush, Brooklyn.

Jason expects to graduate soon. 

Community colleges “are largely second-chance schools for striving low-wage workers — an engine of economic mobility,” writes Tina Rosenberg. Single Stop is partnering with community colleges in eight states to help strivers get the aid they need to stay in school and achieve their goals.

“Community college administrators have always known students leave, and their No. 1 job has been keeping them,” said Sara Goldrick-Rab, an associate professor of educational policy studies and sociology at the University of Wisconsin, who is carrying out evaluations of Single Stop. “They’ve always wanted to do more — but the issue is: with what resources?”

Now they have a new financial motivation to find resources. State funding of community colleges is increasingly tied to their retention or graduation rates — six states did so in 2011, and now 34 states are in the process of adopting that reform or have already adopted it.

The B.M.C.C. office has a financial counselor, a health care navigator and, one day a week, an attorney. Students can get free tax preparation: They must file a return to qualify for federal student aid and the earned-income tax credit.

Can Single Stop keep students in school?

Goldrick-Rab analyzed the early data from CUNY colleges Kingsborough (Single Stop’s first community college program) and LaGuardia. She compared retention rates of Single Stop clients to a group of other students considered economically disadvantaged who didn’t use the service. Although the Single Stop students were most likely much poorer, a year after the program began their retention rates were 32 percent higher — 66 percent of other students re-enrolled the next semester, but 98 percent of the Single Stop students did. LaGuardia showed similar results.

On average, community colleges contribute 43 percent of the cost of a Single Site office on campus.

Miami Dade College has hired 28 counselors to provide one-stop advising — including financial aid, student services and eligibility for benefits — to all students. All will be trained by Single Stop.

Single Stop links students with aid

At a growing number of community college campuses, Single Stop USA counselors help low-income students access government services and benefits so they can stay in school, reports Businessweek.

On the morning of Turner Gray’s English 201 final at the Borough of Manhattan Community College last spring, a city marshal evicted her and her two kids from their Bronx apartment. She’d fallen behind on rent after the city cut off her welfare because it mistakenly thought she wasn’t working. Money troubles had forced Gray to quit school once before. This time she had somewhere to turn for help. Gray went to her school’s Single Stop USA office, where a worker lined up emergency funds from BMCC and, after days of phone calls and paperwork, helped sort out the misunderstanding with the city. “I was back in my apartment in a week and a half,” Gray says.

On average, Single Stop clients access at least $5,400 in services and benefits that would otherwise go unclaimed, estimates McKinsey. The program now has offices at 17 community colleges in seven states.

 “You are doubling the Pell Grant,” says Sara Goldrick-Rab, a sociology professor at the University of Wisconsin at Madison who’s studying the program. “That’s real money.”

. .  .Goldrick-Rab found that Single Stop’s New York programs are on track to reduce dropout rates by 20 percent to 30 percent. That would be “quite a sizable and meaningful” effect if the results hold up over the long term, Goldrick-Rab says. “Research shows it’s really hard to move the dial for this population.”

Eduardo Padrón, president of Miami Dade College calls Single Stop “the most effective and efficient program that we’ve ever had.”

Supports help Latinos stay in college

The youngest and fastest growing population group in the U.S., Latinos now account for more than 20 percent of K-12 students.  However, in 2012, 21.3 percent of Latino adults had earned an associate degree or higher compared to 40.1 percent of all adults. Excelencia in Education‘s national initiative, Ensuring America’s Future by Increasing Latino College Completion, is focusing on community colleges, because that’s where most Latinos start — and end — their pursuit of higher education.

In a new report, “Supporting Latino Community College Students: An Investment in Our Economic FutureExcelencia and Single Stop USA describe how innovative community colleges are changing financial aid and studentservices to help low-income students — including many Latinos — stay in college.

 . . . many Latino students are the first in their family to attend college and make choices to contain costs by enrolling at community colleges, attending part-time, and working more than 20 hours per week while enrolled. Unfortunately, data show all these practical choices by students hinder their college completion.

Too few Latino students know there are resources available to assist with college costs. They are also less likely to access financial resources like tax credits, food assistance, and public health insurance that can enable them to maintain a stable family budget while enrolled. Single Stop USA and its community college partners connect thousands of students to millions of dollars in existing benefits and services that immediately reduce the financial strain faced by Latino students.

Single Stop sites at 17 community colleges help students file their taxes, apply for government benefits, and receive financial and legal counseling. Thirty-eight percent of students served in 2012 were Latino.

The report recommends:

 Federal policy makers can utilize Higher Education Act reauthorization to incentivize colleges to implement student services that are well aligned with retention, completion and employment outcomes, such as the models being developed by Single Stop.

 Complement investments in financial aid by providing student support services that address multiple barriers that can thwart Latino student completion.

 Improve targeting of information regarding financial aid by intentionally developing dissemination strategies that will more effectively reach Latino, low-income and other post-traditional students.

 Address antiquated eligibility rules that disqualify needy students from receiving aid that can help them complete college and attain self-sufficiency.

“America’s future economic success is deeply connected to Latino college completion,” says Eduardo J. Padrón, president of Miami Dade College, which is working with Single Stop.

Low-income students need aid, support

Many community college students juggle classes and jobs while struggling to pay the rent and the babysitter, buy textbooks and put gas in the car. On some campuses, there’s help for low-income students, writes Sara Goldrick-Rab, an associate professor of education and sociology at the University of Wisconsin, in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

In 1998, “Joanne” dropped out of the Borough of Manhattan Community College because she couldn’t afford the subway fare. When she came back to BMCC in 2011, after losing her job, it was very different. Single Stop USA had set up benefits counseling on campus.

She walked in a Pell Grant recipient, and walked out equipped with food stamps, transportation vouchers, and child-care benefits.

. . . Right in the middle of campus, between her classes, she had a 15-minute appointment with an electronic evaluation process facilitated by a knowledgeable counselor who equipped her with the money and support it seems she needed to make a degree possible. This spring, she will complete her associate degree.

Single Stop has offices at 17 community colleges around the country. In the last year, the nonprofit helped 20,000 students collect $38-million in benefits. For every $1 the program costs, it brings $14 in benefits students wouldn’t have otherwise had.

Single Stop hasn’t proven — yet — that its services boost completion rates, writes Goldrick-Rab. But it’s shown the community college can be “a point of connection as well as education.”

Groceries or graduation?

By helping low-income students access public aid — food stamps, health insurance, housing and energy vouchers, child-care subsidies and the like — community colleges hope to improve retention and graduation. Single Stop, a national nonprofit, has partnered with colleges to set up offices on campus. Students also can use legal and financial counseling and free tax-preparation services.

Julio Cohen came with his father to the Single Stop office at Miami Dade College. Laid off as a construction surveyor—the boss kept the guys with degrees—he had decided to study architectural design. But he was thinking of giving up on college to help his father, who was struggling to care for a disabled wife.

Maria Rubios unemployment ran out. The foreclosure papers came in the mail. She couldnt afford medications for bipolar disorder, so she cut each pill in half. She decided to drop out of Miami Dades healthcare administration program. “You’re on the deans list,” a financial aid counselor said. “Wash your face, get some coffee, and be back here in half an hour. You need Single Stop.”

About to “purge” a student from the class roll, a professor first called Single Stop. Could someone call the students cell phone to ask why she had stopped attending?

You can read the full story on U.S. News.

Ways to get students to stay

Many new college students won’t be back sophomore year.  At community colleges, 56 percent of students return for a second year, up from 51 percent in 2004, according to ACT research. The average retention rate is 74 percent at four-year public or private colleges. Colleges are trying to improve retention rates, reports Caralee Adams on Ed Week.

Weak academic skills and shaky motivation are the major reasons students give up on college, reports ACT.

The City University of New York boosted retention — and three-year graduation rates — through the Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP). Students move through college as a group. They receive books, transportation aid and tuition support so they can be full-time students.

“If students are struggling, counselors work with faculty and students to get help,” said Donna Linderman, the program’s director. “It’s individualized. That’s the heart and soul of the program—to help with the transition into college and use the resources available.”

Fifty-five percent of the first group earned an associate degree in three years compared to 24 percent of a comparison group.

College Bound, a nonprofit in St. Louis, provides coaches to help low-income college students cope with problems and stay in school.

Under financial pressure, low-income students often take fewer classes and try to work longer hours.  Single Stop USA helps low-income students apply for a range of benefits, such as Pell Grants, food stamps, earned-income tax credits and child care aid, so they can stick to their studies.

“There are lots of resources and services, but they aren’t coordinated,” (co-founder Elisabeth) Mason said. “We seek to become a one-stop shop, where students can be comprehensively screened.”

The nonprofit has offices at 18 community colleges in five states, and is expanding.

Under pressure to raise graduation rates, colleges are working with nonprofits to help students cope with unexpected crises, notes the Hechinger Report.

In pain from a decaying tooth, Job Asiimwe nearly quit Bunker Hill Community College months away from graduation. Using a foundation-funded Dreamkeepers grant, the college paid for Asiimwe’s dental work.

“Finances are the number one reason students drop out. It’s not just school finances — it’s life finances,” said Lauren Segal, president and CEO of Scholarship America. “It’s the day-to-day life experiences that are the hurdles students have to get over. And those don’t have to be big things. They can be small things — say, their daycare goes up $100 a month, and that’s the make-or-break number.”

At Mount Hood Community College near Portland, Ore., employees have found students sleeping in campus restrooms or in their cars. Mount Hood lets students check out books, laptops and calculators if they can’t afford them, runs a food pantry and provides bus passes for students in emergencies.


Single Stop wins innovation grant

Single Stop USA will use a $1.1 million Social Innovation Fund grant, channeled through New Profit, to help more  low-income community college students overcome financial barriers to stay in school.

Nearly half of community college students drop out every year, yet $65 billion in government aid goes  unclaimed, says Single Stop’s CEO Elisabeth Mason. Single Stop helps students get the benefits and services they need. Now operating in New York, New Jersey, California, New Mexico and Florida, the nonprofit hopes to expand to new states.

Single Stop participants in New Jersey have only a 36 percent dropout rate, compared to a 62 percent and 52 percent dropout rate for other part-time and full-time students at the same school, the group reports.