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NPEA Data Counts (NDC) is a data project run by the National Partnership for Educational Access (NPEA) that provides best practices, research, and resources around data collection and analysis to organizations, programs, and institutions committed to educational access for underserved students. The project also seeks to further understand the impact of NPEA members’ collective work on the broader educational access field and on positive educational outcomes for underserved students.
A key element of NDC is the sharing of best practices related to 10 Key Indicators of college access and success for underserved students. The goal is to help those who are working to expand educational access understand what to measure and why, common terms and definitions across the field, indicator benchmarks, and more.
NPEA is pleased to continue our Data Champions Spotlights, in which NPEA features members who are achieving exceptional results and shares their stories with the broader field.
Our hope is that we can learn from one another about the variety of perspectives and approaches to data work that we employ in the interest of ultimately best supporting underserved students.
Our second Data Champions Spotlight focuses on Indicator 9: enrolling in a post-secondary program immediately after high school. Specifically, this indicator measures results for cohorts of high school seniors, and asks whether or not those students pursued post-secondary programs immediately after high school; for those who did, it asks about the financial aid gaps they faced.
In the NDC’s 2016 Data Collection Tool, 19 programs submitted responses for Indicator 9f (Financial Aid Gaps). For this Spotlight, we reached out to all 19 programs, as we know it is impressive to collect this rigorous data alone (regardless of results). Four of those 19 programs responded to our outreach and are included in this Spotlight.
Organization: Bridge to Enter Advanced Mathematics (BEAM)
Staffing: Approximately 12 FTE, with 3 who work specifically on data and others assisting
Organization: Emerging Scholars
Staffing: Approximately 5 FTE, with 2 FTE working with data
Organization: Trinity Education for Excellence Program (TEEP)
Staffing: 3 FTE, all of whom help to compile attendance data, demographics data, evaluation tools for internal program adjustment, and external reporting
Organization: Young Eisner Scholars (YES)
Staffing: Approximately 12 FTE; all 4 program directors, the executive director, and the grant support staff all work with data, but there is no one specific role dedicated to the task
Question 1: What systems, strategies, and/or approaches does your organization or school use to track this information (financial aid gaps faced by college-bound students)?
Bridge to Enter Advanced Mathematics (BEAM): Start early! We meet our kids in 6th grade and we start talking right away about the cost of college attendance. The early message is that some colleges will be very affordable (even free!) for low-income students who can get in. Collect the data you need to tell the story: we ask for copies of taxes in 7th grade as an admissions criterion, which then allows us to understand what their expected cost of college attendance may be. Families can also submit documentation stating they don’t file taxes.
In terms of collecting data: don’t trust others to do this work! We’re a Community-Based Organization (CBO), so students also get college advice from their schools. In our first years, we were shocked by how many 12th graders still hadn’t heard of the CSS Profile by February. Now, we dole out information early and often: when to file your FAFSA, what to do if you have a non-custodial parent who doesn’t contribute to your education, how to manage email to make sure you don’t miss verification notices. We use email, in-person meetings, and mass texting to make sure the 12th grade cohort knows these things.
Emerging Scholars Program: Since 2015, we have produced a survey of each applicant, the admission results and the difference between the Parent Offer to Pay and the Financial Aid Award. The survey includes 22 other points of data that are also tabulated. Household income, number of dependents, and siblings or parents in tuition-based educational programming are all included, and help to provide a more complete picture.
Young Eisner Scholars (YES): We rely on self-reporting from our students to provide the initial overview of their financial aid awards. We then review financial aid notifications with each student individually in-person. Once students have finalized their college decision, we have each student and family complete a YES College Form that clearly outlines their financial aid award and breaks down funding sources (grants, loans, and outside scholarships) to clearly map out the funding available to each student and total out-of-pocket costs.
Question 2: What 3-5 pieces of advice or best practices would you pass along to other programs or schools interested in better tracking and/or advising students and families as they navigate financial aid packages and post-secondary options?
Bridge to Enter Advanced Mathematics (BEAM): A big thing for us was setting a target for “the right amount of debt”. Yes, 0 would be best, but that’s just not going to happen every time. So, we set the marker at $8,000/year, which is the gap in aid for a NYC resident planning to live on campus at a State University of New York (SUNY) if their Expected Family Contribution (EFC) is 0. $8,000/year is a manageable amount of debt, and going to SUNY makes a lot of sense for a lot of kids. We do have students choose packages with more debt, but we make sure they know this is a risky choice.
With regards to tracking: you have to see the paper! Students are confused by aid, so this is a great opportunity to help them while also creating records. Photocopy every offer letter they bring in for an advising session, and use it to help students know what to expect next year. We even made our own slide deck for our ‘Summer College Bootcamp’ for rising 11th/12th graders that breaks down offer letters and shows how inconsistent and confusing they are. Obviously, student names are removed! Once you do this, the tracking is pretty easy, and students and families will show up for these meetings with the tools to understand what is going on.
Another lesson we’ve learned is that it’s important to make sure students don’t spend too much time chasing $500 scholarships. The best financial aid comes from the colleges, so they should put most of their focus on big scholarships (JKCF, Questbridge, Posse, Gates) and their college applications. We explain that the time for scholarships of $2,000 or less is after they get into college, when they’ll have more time to spend on more applications.
Lastly, schedule fun events throughout 11th/12th grade to get students who are out of touch to re-engage. You never know what problem you’re going to solve just because you see someone face to face!
Emerging Scholars Program: Many of our practices result from one crucial best practice: be sure to have an agreement with the family for full disclosure of information! Ensure the parents that this information is helpful to the other entities as they need to know the issues that families face when applying and attending these schools. Reassure the parents that this information is secured and guarded in anonymity. Finally, offer an opportunity for families to view other anonymous data as well.
Trinity Education for Excellence Program: We have sustained a partnership with Inversant (formerly F.U.E.L.) which is a savings and match opportunity for our high school participants. Monthly learning circles offer guidance throughout the college process including FAFSA completion, college application process, transfer process, and much more. Students are eligible throughout their high school career and anything saved in their account is matched up to $1,000. The partnership with Inversant has been invaluable to our program participants and parents in doing all they can to prepare for college.
Young Eisner Scholars (YES): We start talking about college costs with our students as early as 9th grade and really discuss the college return on investment. A majority of our students attend independent schools with amazing, comprehensive financial aid, and we are very upfront that college costs will be more significant. Our families have high school tuition payments as low as $50/month that cover all fees, meals, and transportation, so there is major sticker-shock when students receive financial aid awards for college—even our students who receive “full-ride” college financial aid awards often have additional expenses that ultimately cost families more than a year of their reduced high school tuitions. Students are encouraged to apply to colleges that meet 100% of need, and we generally discourage students from taking out more than $15,000/year in loans.
Having students initially self-report their financial aid awards compared to the total cost of attendance has helped our organization (and students) obtain a clearer picture about the actual cost of attendance for each college. Students often utilize this information to make their college decision. We also help students and families carefully analyze financial aid packages for three key expenses: 1) travel costs; 2) books and supplies; 3) health insurance. Each school words their award letters differently, so we help students factor in what specific expenses are covered. Health insurance alone can add an additional $2000 to the cost of attendance, so we ask students and families to find out that information before we examine the financial aid award.
We also have students break down their awards by source of funding and this is so helpful to see the big picture – what may seem like a great financial aid package on paper may actually be a large parent loan and limited grant funding. We encourage students to appeal awards and we help write appeal letters – if it initially doesn’t seem feasible we reach out to ask for additional funding through a narrative and data-driven approach. Lastly, we have a master list of scholarships for our students and we ask each student apply to at least 3 scholarships. Many of these are regional and smaller-dollar scholarships, but our student sees how every bit helps and a $500 scholarship can make a dent in travel or textbook costs.
Question 3: When you consider the students you’ve worked with in navigating financial aid packages and post-secondary options, what student story (or stories) come(s) to mind that you would like to share with the NPEA community? Putting a “face to the data” is always helpful to paint a picture.
Bridge to Enter Advanced Mathematics (BEAM): Abdoulaye attended a high school we thought we trusted with a major college counseling component. When April 30 of his senior year rolled around, we hadn’t heard back about college, so we called to ask: where were you admitted? He said he was deciding between GWU, Syracuse, and Howard, but he didn’t know what his financial aid would be for Syracuse and Howard. There was some verification he had missed earlier and he wasn’t going to learn his aid package until May, after he had to make a decision on GWU. Abdoulaye was okay with GWU and his annual cost of attendance was only $800, but his deposit was $1,000, and he knew he couldn’t afford that. May 1 was a Monday so we spent ~2 hours calling financial aid at each school. Howard didn’t answer. Syracuse said they could extend the deadline to June 1 to decide, but that meant he would have to turn down GWU with no guarantee he could afford Syracuse. I knew GWU would negotiate the deposit, so I called financial aid who told me to call admissions. Admissions said that if I sent an email and copied Abdoulaye, they would drop the deposit to $150. I called him during his lunch hour and presented the info. He called his mom and they paid the $150 to GWU.
The next year, we completely redesigned our tracking procedures. In particular, we now say to students who claim they are getting their advising from their high school, “It’s great that your high school is providing this support, but it’s often a good idea to have a second opinion. Can we hear what you’re up to at this stage?” We hope we’ve avoided many situations like Abdoulaye’s, where students end up with restricted options because they didn’t know what they needed to do to get their aid.
Emerging Scholars Program: As a short example, we had one student turn-down two full scholarships, one of which included a fully-funded double major and a master’s degree, in order to attend Columbia University – where no financial assistance was offered. You can do all of the work to provide affordable options for students, and they may still choose to go a different direction.
Trinity Education for Excellence Program: We had a high school senior who was dead-set on attending Simmons College. They had what she was looking for in terms of the program of study, but the financial aid offer was too low for her. Despite feeling disappointed, she took advice from our staff team and other supporters to attend UMASS Boston for her Freshman Year. She received a full-scholarship and is now halfway through her second-year with no debt. This financial stability has given her the ability to focus on her studies and save money while working two part-time jobs. Her story reminds all of our students that the path to higher education is rarely a straight line and that each opportunity may present a compromise. She hopes to transfer in her third year or attend Simmons for graduate studies.
Young Eisner Scholars (YES): Our students have high ambition, a great depth of leadership skills, and the work ethic to accomplish their goals. The high cost of post-secondary education, however, often leaves students dejected, discouraged, or delayed in completing their studies. For many of our students, they are the first to attend college and lack the insider know-how of navigating the financial aid process and deciphering the packages they do receive. Our individual family meetings help diminish sticker-shock and let our families know they have a source of support when it comes to understanding financial aid and college costs. We had a family that was convinced their student could not attend his top school, a private liberal arts college. They balked at the overall cost of attendance and wanted him to attend a state school and live off-campus with family friends. We were able to work with the family to break down the cost of attendance at both schools, which showed that the private college ultimately would be the cheaper option. The student’s initial financial aid award had a gap that was more than the family was comfortable with, but we were able to write an appeal to the school and helped our student apply to several smaller scholarships to further close the gap. He is now attending his dream school and is learning a great deal about financial responsibility along the way.
Question 4: Is there anything else you would like NPEA or its members to know about your organization or school’s work with data, and/or specifically with students as they pursue two- or four-year degrees?
Emerging Scholars: Employment is an essential part of the financial aid process. Please be sure Scholars can find other means to generate income while in school – work-study only does so much.
Special thanks to the following staff members interviewed for this Spotlight:
Trinity Education for Excellence Program
Director of Programs and Development
Bridge to Enter Advanced Mathematics (BEAM)
Director of Scholars Advancement
Emerging Scholars Program
Director of Programs
Young Eisner Scholars (YES)
May 2017 Member Spotlight: City Year Boston
Elevator Speech: City Year is dedicated to helping students and schools succeed. In Boston, City Year recruits, trains, and deploys AmeriCorps members into service in 21 schools across the Boston Public Schools (BPS), where they reach more than 10,000 students every day and collectively serve more than 450,000 hours over the academic year. Diverse teams of City Year Boston AmeriCorps members serve full-time in schools, providing school-wide and individualized support to help students stay in school and on track to graduate from high school, ready for college and career success. City Year Boston focuses its interventions in three key areas, helping students improve their performance in attendance, positive behavior, and coursework in math and English Language Arts. City Year Boston is part of a national network working in 27 urban communities across the U.S. A proud member of the AmeriCorps national service network, City Year Boston’s service is made possible by support from the Corporation for National and Community Service, school district partnerships, and private philanthropy from corporations, foundations and individuals.
February 2017 Member Spotlight: Give Something Back
Elevator Speech: Give Something Back (“Give Back”) is an educational focused public charity that provides mentors and scholarships to help Pell Grant-eligible students go to college and graduate in four years, debt free. The program selects lower-income, academically driven students in 9th grade through an application and interview process. Once enrolled, Give Back pairs them with mentors, offers them academic and social enrichment programming, and requires them to maintain a minimum 3.0 GPA while taking a college preparatory course load. Scholars then attend a Give Back partner college or university, debt free, and graduate in four years. Founded in 2003, Give Back currently serves over 200 students annually, and has expanded to locations in Delaware, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania. The organization has seen strong results, as Give Back’s scholar alumni have a 90% on-time graduation rate at 4-year colleges and 100% employment rate among alumni with college degrees. (more…)
November/December 2016 Member Spotlight: Williams College
Elevator Speech: Williams College is a private liberal arts college located in Williamstown, MA (about 135 miles northwest of Boston). Founded in 1793, Williams was one of the trailblazing schools that launched American higher education and has path-breaking originality in its DNA. Most notably, Williams offers more than 60 Tutorials each year, which are academic experiences that pair two students with a faculty member in deep inquiry of a single topic over an entire semester. The college also boasts a longstanding commitment to enrolling and supporting underrepresented students. Williams is one of about four-dozen colleges in the U.S. that practices need-blind admission for domestic applicants (including undocumented students and those with DACA status) and meets 100% of the demonstrated need of every admitted student, every year. The college enrolls 2,200 students who hail from nearly every state and more than 85 countries. Nearly 40% of Williams’ students are American students of color, and 15% are the first in their families to attend college. Half of all Williams’ students receive financial aid from the college. (more…)
October 2016 Member Spotlight: The Achieve Program at Noble and Greenough School
Elevator Speech: The Achieve Program (“Achieve”) at Noble and Greenough School (“Nobles”) is a school-based, non-profit organization that provides academic and social enrichment through summer and academic year (Saturday) programming to selected, motivated students in grades 6-12 from Boston Public Schools (BPS) who qualify for federal free or reduced lunch. Achieve is housed at Nobles in Dedham, MA, and represents a unique private and public school partnership between Nobles and BPS to best serve the greater Boston community. The program was founded in 2007, and currently serves over 160 students from 30 BPS schools located in communities such as Roxbury, Dorchester, Mattapan, Jamaica Plain, Hyde Park, West Roxbury, Roslindale, Charlestown, and East Boston. Achieve scholars are motivated, resilient, and thoughtful. Currently 98% are students of color, 89% will be first generation college students, and 70% speak a second language at home.
September 2016 Member Spotlight: Brewer Foundation Future Leaders Program (FLP)
Elevator Speech: The Brewer Foundation Future Leaders Program (FLP) is an educational access nonprofit that provides academic resources and leadership training to deserving students from the Dallas Independent School District (DISD) in Dallas, Texas. FLP is one initiative of the Brewer Foundation (formerly, the Bickel & Brewer Foundation), which is a 501(c)(3) private operating foundation funded annually by the generosity of the law firm Brewer, Attorneys and Counselors, as well as donor contributions. Founded in 2001, FLP has been recognized by both the Texas State Board of Education and the Texas Governor’s Office, and has now emerged as a national model of public-private partnership. FLP works with 23 DISD partner schools and serves over 300 DISD students in grades 5-12, as well as graduates now attending college. The program is available for free to students from economically challenged neighborhoods in South Dallas, Oak Cliff, and West Dallas. Students are chosen for FLP based on their scholastic aptitude, school attendance, civic involvement, and leadership potential. Once enrolled, students participate in academic enrichment programming on weekends, as well as intensive summer programming for high school students to assist with college research, applications, and more.
August 2016 Member Spotlight: Odyssey
Elevator Speech: With support and partnership from The Westminster Schools and Atlanta Public Schools, Odyssey launched in 2005 as an educational access nonprofit that runs summer and out-of-school time programming for highly motivated students in grades 1-12 with significant demonstrated financial, academic, and/or social-emotional needs. Odyssey’s primary focus is running a robust six-week summer academic enrichment program held on the prestigious campus of The Westminster Schools. The summer program enrolls around 36 students per grade level—over 380 students in grades 1-12 served annually—and attracts master teachers to provide rigorous academic courses focused on project-based learning. During the academic year, students are also given the opportunity to attend college fairs, college tours, participate in career exploration programming, be paired with a mentor, and receive college application and financial aid advising and support.
July 2016 Member Spotlight: Lyford Cay Foundation
Elevator Speech: Launched in 1969, Lyford Cay Foundation is a philanthropic organization focused on supporting low-income, first generation, K-12 students on their paths to and through college. The Foundation began as a charity distributing small grants to non-profits in The Bahamas in the 1970s and ventured into providing scholarships for Bahamian students in the 1980s. Over the last decade, seeing the need to better prepare first generation, public school students for college, the Foundation designed and launched its own college access programming. The Foundation’s core belief is that increasing educational attainment across the country is key to the development of a prosperous, healthy, and peaceful Bahamas. Lyford Cay Foundation currently runs four major programs: FOCUS, Cutillas Scholars, Scholarships, and Grants programs.
June 2016 Member Spotlight: Bowdoin Bound
Elevator Speech: Launched in 2002, Bowdoin Bound is a small, regional nonprofit organization that partners with Bowdoin College (Brunswick, ME) to expand educational access opportunities through summer programming for high achieving, low-income middle school and high school students of color from inner city Baltimore. In 1802, Bowdoin College enrolled its first eight students, and then President Joseph McKeen urged them to work “for the common good,” a phrase that came to epitomize Bowdoin’s sense of mission. When alumnus Daniel Spears founded Bowdoin Bound in 2002 with its first cohort consisting of fifteen 5th graders, the College drew on this mission to provide in-kind donations through dorm space, the dining hall, scholarships, and invaluable staff time for workshops presented by representatives from the Offices of Admission and Student Aid. Over the past 15 years, Bowdoin Bound has grown to support over thirty-five middle and high school students annually, and remains a commitment shared between the college and volunteers.
April 2016 Member Spotlight: Management Leadership for Tomorrow
Elevator Speech: Launched in 2002, Management Leadership for Tomorrow (MLT) is a national nonprofit organization that is transforming the career and life trajectories of a new generation of diverse leaders. MLT is also expanding its partners’ talent pipelines at more than 100 leading corporations, social enterprises, and universities. MLT’s acclaimed programs propel the careers of high-potential African American, Latino, and Native American women and men – more than 5,000 and growing. MLT’s programs span the career spectrum – from college (Career Prep) to MBA (MBA Prep and MBA Professional Development) to the executive level (Career Advancement Program).
MLT’s newest initiatives include MLT Ascend, in which MLT’s Rising Leaders (alumni) volunteer to coach low-income and first-generation college students, and the Africa Business Fellowship, an opportunity for American business professionals to gain up to six months experience working with an African-led company in Africa. In partnership with top-tier corporations such as Citi, Google, Deloitte, LinkedIn, Goldman Sachs, and PepsiCo, along the top 25 business schools, MLT has achieved breakthrough results for its community of rising leaders. MLT has been featured on the cover of Fortune, and in CNN’s “Black in America 2: Tomorrow’s Leaders” series. MLT’s experience and expertise are influencing national conversations about opportunity, race, workforce diversity, and economic mobility, and proving that these vexing gaps and inequities can be overcome.