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Comm. Colleges to Offer 1st-Year Class

CT State Community College students who enroll in a degree program in Fall 2023 will be required to take a College and Career Success course designed to help them navigate college, develop skills and strategies for success and plan for their futures. Nationally and in Connecticut, community college students struggle to persist and earn a degree, and this evidence-based, three-credit course was designed with an understanding of the challenges students face and how to guide them.

Among first-time, full-time students who enrolled in a CSCU community college between 2011 and 2015, 15% attained a degree or certificate within three years of starting. Connecticut students’ graduation rates fell below the national average (24%) and all other New England states’ community colleges during the same time period, according to CT State, part of the state Department of Education. Historically underserved students face additional barriers to graduation. In Connecticut, only 7% of Black students and 11% of Latinx students, compared with 18% of Asian students and 19% of White students, earned a credential within three years, according to CT State.

Meanwhile, research shows “first-year experience” (FYE) courses must be taken early in a student’s academic career to achieve the highest impact, and all students, even high-performing and transfer students, benefit, according to the state Board of Regent’s College and Career Success (CCS 101) policy recommendation.

In studies of various two- and four-year colleges across the nation, students who enrolled in an FYE course, as compared to similar students who did not, were more likely to:

  • stay in college longer;
  • earn more college credits and higher grades in subsequent terms;
  • feel a greater sense of belonging;
  • feel better about the career decision-making process; and
  • graduate in less time and with fewer credits.

Students face multiple barriers, such as lack of transportation, financial burdens, mental health challenges and motivation, so there’s “not one answer as to why students may not persist and succeed.  That’s why we’ve implemented different strategies including requiring this course and restructuring advising so that students are guided on a path using a structured and supportive approach,” says Jill Rushbrook, interim coordinator of CCS 101: College & Career Success, Connecticut State Community College.

“There’s no formula for what makes students successful. In my experience, it’s when you connect with a student, care about them, offer customized support and refer them to resources that they uniquely need,” Rushbrook says. “As much as this course is going to be impactful, I still think students will need their Peer Mentor. The most important thing is for students to have go-to people– their Peer Mentor, their advisor, a professor, etc. I think that having those established contacts makes students feel more connected and engaged. One individual may not have all the answers, but they can connect a student to resources. Although a student might hear the same thing more than once from a few people, that isn’t a bad thing and repetition can only help with the learning process.”

For more information, including the research behind this course, go to CT State at

Partners Help Class of ’22 Students

For the 68% of Class of 2022 students enrolled in a program designed to help them with last-minute, post-secondary planning, the community-based organizations (CBOs) executing the program attained their goal of enrolling students in summer placements and college or career in the fall, according to a report prepared by ReadyCT, program coordinator. Yet other factors, including chronic absenteeism and incomplete contact information, meant CBOs’ staff members were only able to engage 38% of the 201 students referred to the program, 77 students, total.

Hartford Public Schools staff referred 201 graduating seniors from the three traditional Hartford high schools and four magnet schools to the ALL IN! Class of 2022 program between March 31 and June 2, providing the names, schools and contact information of students without a plan for what they’d do after high school. This figure represented 165% of the original goal of 122 referrals.

Ultimately, 77 students completed a career-interest profile and enrolled in the program, and 70% of enrolled students (54) participated in at least one type of summer program – an internship, job, summer bridge program to a college or summer youth employment and learning program.  While the majority of the students were from Hartford, a few magnet school students were from New Britain (6), East Hartford (4), West Hartford (3), Bloomfield (2), Newington (1) and Vernon (1).

By the end of the program in mid-September, 68% of participants (52) had been placed in at least one final placement – either a two- or four-year college, a job, paid internship, trade program or “industry recognized credential” program. The students attending traditional high schools largely enrolled at community colleges, and those attending magnet schools were more likely to enroll at four-year colleges. Nearly half of the 52-student cohort were accepted into post-secondary education.

Enrolled students were offered a chance at a $50 gift card to complete a satisfaction survey, and 51% responded.  Most of the 39 respondents said the program and staff helped them achieve their goals, and all respondents said they had completed their goals or were working on them. The respondents were permitted to give multiple reasons for joining the Class of 2022 program, and “for support with securing employment or seeking advice on launching their careers” was, by far, the top reason chosen.

“Despite extraordinary efforts by the staff of Blue Hills Civic Association, Center for Latino Progress and ReadyCT to reach students to offer this guidance, 20 students declined and 104 couldn’t be reached,” says Paul Diego Holzer, executive director of Achieve Hartford, which led the fundraising effort to fund the program. “While we wish we could have served more students, we’re thrilled we were able to help 68% of enrolled students. This last-minute emergency intervention potentially changed the trajectory of these students’ lives.”

This Coalition effort wouldn’t have been possible without these funders, to whom we’re grateful: the Travelers Foundation, the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, The Hartford, the H.A. Vance Foundation, Social Venture Partners, Liberty Bank, the Elizabeth Carse Foundation and Brown Rudnick.  Not only could these students get high-touch support, but some of them even got access to laptops for college and other supports. This was truly a moment for the “village” to rally around its high school graduates.

In CT, 454K Borrowers Qualify for Federal Student Loan Relief

About 454,200 Connecticut borrowers are eligible for at least $10,000 in federal student loan relief implemented under President Joe Biden’s loan forgiveness plan, according to state-by-state data released in September by the White House. Some 52% (238,200) of those borrowers received Pell Grants.

In August, Biden announced his administration would forgive $10,000 in federal student loan debt for qualified borrowers, and $20,000 for Pell Grant recipients, depending on income. Most Pell Grant recipients’ families earn less than $60,000 a year.

Nationwide, more than 38 million people qualify for loan forgiveness, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Nearly 90% of relief will go to borrowers earning less than $75,000 a year, according to the White House statement. Nearly 71% of Black and 65% of Latinx undergraduate borrowers are Pell Grant recipients.

With the state’s PACT program, community college tuition for eligible first-time college students has been free since 2020. Students must be graduates of Connecticut schools and meet enrollment standards to qualify.

Nonetheless, nearly 13% of Connecticut’s residents qualify for debt relief under the student loan forgiveness plan. The state’s borrowers carry a collective $17.5 billion in student debt, according to the Education Data Initiative. The average student loan debt in the state is $35,162, and 57% of those with student loan debt are under 35 years old.

Achieve Hartford Transforms Itself

Board Approves New Strategic Path

As an organization that reflects on its impact each year, Achieve Hartford knew coming out of COVID was the right time for strategic planning.

“Having spent the last few years trying to focus on cross-sector collaboration and systems-change, the pandemic really forced us to reconcile the immense gaps in student readiness and support, and the need for solutions,” Executive Director Paul Diego Holzer says. “As a backbone organization, our focus these past four years on the transition from high school to post-secondary education and training uncovered an unmet need for an important population of students.”

Specifically, while working with partners, we identified a group of seniors on track for high school graduation but not on track for success at 4-year colleges who need support getting into and through community college.

And with this need existing beyond Greater Hartford, we are extending our services to similar low-income students around the state, expanding this fall to serve students attending Capital, Manchester, Quinebaug Valley, Middlesex and Three Rivers Community Colleges.

The Achieve Hartford Board approved a new strategic plan earlier this month, and Achieve Hartford will be rebranding itself this fall. The 13-year-old organization will reconstitute its Board of Directors and staff to ensure we fully understand the needs of – and reflect the experiences of – the students we serve. Community college students’ voices will continue to drive our program design, and we will remain lean during our programmatic expansion.

Not all coalition-building work will end, as Achieve Hartford will still look to convene other community-based organizations that help prepare seniors without a plan for success after high school. We will refine the details of this work in the months to come, and will explore whether the need exists in additional cities besides Hartford.

“We hope to ensure the nonprofit sector, working with this population before they graduate high school, works together so students arrive at community college better prepared,” Holzer says. “We know the pandemic’s impact on students will be felt academically and emotionally for many years to come.”

Peer Mentor Program Expands Reach

Programs Serve 5 Community Colleges, 16 Districts

This fall, the Peer Mentors in our College Persistence Program are offering their help to 600 students at five community colleges.

“I don’t know that anybody else would have predicted this when we started,” says Chris Marcelli, director of programs. “We had a sense that 2019 was something of a pilot, and that we wanted to see it grow if it seemed workable. But the opportunity to scale up this rapidly has been a combination of good planning, good outcomes and lucky timing.”

Three years ago, this program started as a small Action Team of the ALL IN! Coalition, serving about 30 first-year college students who had just graduated with the Hartford Public Schools class of 2019. When Achieve Hartford took it on as a full program in 2020, it jumped to more than 120 Hartford students at Capital and Manchester Community Colleges. In 2021, we added new graduates from five other Alliance Districts in Hartford County attending those colleges, taking the program roster to more than 300.

According to the Connecticut State Colleges & Universities’ (CSCU) Office of Research and System Effectiveness, “fall-to-spring persistence” for Connecticut community college students under the age of 24 from the zip codes we served at the time was 58% for fall 2020; meanwhile, students in our cohort persisted at the substantially higher rate of 71%.

“They haven’t posted similar data for the fall of 2021 yet,” Marcelli says. “But our own results have been pretty consistent, so we’re expecting that when they do, we’ll continue to compare favorably.”

This year, the program expands to Middlesex, Quinebaug Valley and Three Rivers Community Colleges, serving students from 10 additional Alliance Districts in those areas. The five colleges in the program’s newly expanded catchment area correspond to CSCU’s Capital-East Region.

Though the exact nature of that administrative structure is in flux, as of next summer, the system will transition fully to being a single institution, Connecticut Community College.

Students’ Lives Improved

Class of 2022 Program Boosts Prospects

For the Class of 2022 graduates who participated in the spring and summer intervention designed to help those without post-secondary plans land somewhere by this September, their options expanded. The Hartford Public Schools identified 202 students in need of guidance, and community partners engaged 80 seniors, about 40%. Final data won’t be available until the program ends in late September, but qualitative results are in.

Community partners Blue Hills Civic Association, Center for Latino Progress and ReadyCT work with students facing multiple challenges, including poverty and pandemic-related trauma.

Students who never saw beyond their next paycheck have learned about 401(k)s. One student who had never had a paying job because of caring for younger siblings got a paid internship at The Village for Families & Children working with children and recently interviewed for a childcare job. She plans to attend community college to begin a nursing program.

Another student served had missed so much school she risked not graduating. Our community partner, ReadyCT’s Darlene Schubert, gained her mother’s trust, partly by speaking Spanish. The mother set up the first Zoom meeting with Schubert and her daughter. Over time, Schubert formed a bond with the girl and slowly persuaded her to return to school, sitting with her in class to ease the transition. While she does not yet have a job or internship, she has expressed an interest in reading; Schubert is guiding her to get an internship at a public library and later, a job in a book store.

Like all partner organization staff, Schubert works to build a relationship with each student first, so trust can grow. “We all just want to feel connected to someone,” she says. “I go into this knowing that those relationships are what make us thrive.” She keeps in mind the trauma these students have lived through because of the pandemic the past two and a half years, stepping slowly and carefully. “These COVID students are just a whole different breed – the motivation, the autonomy, the self-efficacy – are delayed,” Schubert says.

One student was so happy with the program he talked six friends into joining. The program paid for him to take a Google certification test so he could obtain an internship with an IT company. The IT company saw his intelligence and work-ethic and offered him a full-time job.

Another student, whose earnings helped pay for his family’s groceries and rent, said he had only been focused on working a job and never considered a career with growth potential and benefits such as health insurance, paid time off and retirement funds; he is now on a path to join a labor union, thanks to skills and certifications he received through the Class of 2022 project. Several students are striving to attend college, with a few completing college summer courses.

The students felt the outreach staffs’ commitment to them. When the students graduated from their respective high schools, outreach workers were there to cheer for them. And thanks to funders’ generosity, 48 students attended a celebratory event to see the Hartford Yard Goats, further building social connections and community.

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