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.”
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?
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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 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.