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Financial Supports for Student Completion

Financial Supports for Student Completion

In a recent blog post over at Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity, Dr. Regina Stanback Stroud, president of Skyline College, wrote a wonderful piece that captures an educator’s insight into one of the most significant barriers to postsecondary attainment community college student’s face – poverty. While no one institution bears the full burden for assisting individuals in escaping poverty, the piece makes a compelling case that community colleges can and should play a bigger role in helping to reduce the financial barriers low-income students face. Specifically, she identifies the importance of models that integrate public benefits access, financial coaching, and career and employment advice.

The importance of increasing access to public benefits cannot be understated. More than $70 billion in supports go unclaimed every year by low- and moderate-income families seeking to improve their financial security. These unclaimed supports include nutrition, healthcare, heat and energy assistance, student financial aid, and tax credits, and even veterans’ education and training benefits. Claiming these benefits is proven by research to decrease poverty, reduce hunger and homelessness, encourage and sustain employment, improve welfare-to-work success rates, improve health outcomes, and help students complete postsecondary education and training.

For many community colleges, however, providing public benefits access and financial coaching/literacy have traditionally fallen outside the scope of services provided in the educational setting. A default position has been taken that the only effective approach is to refer students to an outside entity, typically a nonprofit not located on campus. A unique aspect of the SparkPoint Center model is that the center is a located on the college’s campus – virtually indistinguishable as a separate service of the college. Skyline College’s SparkPoint Center, is funded through a partnership with the local United Way of the Bay Area. Skyline is a network member of an initiative managed by MDC under the Center for Working Families project (often referred to as CWF at Community Colleges) funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.  

Referring to the CWF model, Dr. Regina Stanback Stroud recently commented:

“In its essence, CWF is an effort to re-conceptualize what it means to educate a person.”

MDC has developed similar relationships with a group of more than 26 community colleges in North Carolina to bundle public benefits access using an online expert service called The Benefit Bank® of North Carolina with a coaching model designed to equip staff with additional tools and insights in serving low-income students. Similar models have already proven successful at improving the semester-to-semester retention rate of low-income students by as much as 15 percent.

Leaders like Dr. Stroud at Skyline College recognize that these emerging models of providing critical services to low-income students are well within the purview of a community college’s mission and capability. By deploying innovative technology, partnerships, and support structures, perhaps we can achieve the lofty goals set out by foundations like Lumina or the White House itself.

We end this point by deferring to an expert in the field of higher education with a sobering reality that frames the challenge ahead.

As stated by Jamie Merisotis, president of the Lumina Foundation:

“You would be amazed, and saddened, to know how many people never finish college because their car broke down and they couldn’t afford to fix it, or because they couldn’t find daycare for their kids, or because someone in their family got sick and they needed to go to work to pay the bills.”

The challenges may be daunting, but practical solutions and programs are not absent.