Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Single Stop USA: Supporting Community College Persistence and Completion

Last week, the GreenLight Fund had the opportunity to attend the release of an exciting new report at the Boston Foundation.  The report, authored by Andy Sum at the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University and entitled “Closer to the Finish Line: the College Enrollment and  Completion  Experiences of Graduates of the Boston Public Schools” in large part provides very good news.  Overall, it shows that over the last decade, BPS graduates are enrolling in, persisting in and completing college at higher rates.
However, the report also shares news that is instructive for policymakers, education leaders and funders such as the GreenLight Fund and the Boston Foundation, who seek to move the needle on closing the achievement and opportunity gap for Boston’s most vulnerable youth. One of the areas most in need of attention is completion and degree attainment for students enrolling in community college.

“Despite a growing focus on community colleges, the vast majority of degrees (89% for the Class of 2005) are being awarded by four-year institutions.  The college graduation rates of BPS graduates from the Class of 2005 who attended four year colleges tended to match (private colleges) or exceed (public colleges) those of their national counterparts, but the graduation rate of those attending two-year public colleges fell below that of their national counterparts." 

While we don't yet understand why Boston lags behind its national counterparts, this report and other research helps us to know that conditions are much less favorable for students attending community college, including: whether student attends full or part-time, financial aid, case management and academic support.  However, for many community college students, the reality is that they also face larger issues that must be dealt with before learning can take place, such as inadequate child care, food and transportation costs, housing and financial problems, immigration issues and health care access, to name a few. 

 As we consider the myriad ways we can support BPS graduates as they pursue further education at two-year institutions, it is important to highlight the work of Single Stop USA.  Founded by Elizabeth Mason in 2001 as a New York City-based antipoverty initiative of the Robin Hood Foundation, the organization expanded to Boston in 2011 with the support of the GreenLight Fund as our sixth portfolio organization.   Single Stop's Community College program provides colleges with the resources, training, technology, and technical support to facilitate comprehensive case management, benefits access, legal counseling, tax preparation and financial coaching to address issues like debt management, budgeting and credit clean-up.  All services are free to students.

In Boston, Single Stop USA operates out of Bunker Hill Community College, where counselors have supported more than 1,200 low-income students by helping them gain access to essential life-changing benefits.  While we await local results, we know from Single Stop USA's work around the country that   preliminary data indicate that those students who access Single Stop services are more likely to stay in school.

The GreenLight Fund is excited by the conversation begun by Success Boston and sustained by the Boston Foundation and other key partners and supporters.  By continuing to invest in organizations such as Single Stop USA, we can continue to invest in the future of Boston’s young people, and the future of our community.