Despite advancements in education, the rates of students going to college are not what they once were. A study by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development noted that in 1990, the U.S. ranked first in the world in four-year degree attainment, but by 2014, the U.S. ranked twelfth. This decrease is not only detrimental to our students, and the communities we serve, but our country's well being. Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce found that at current rates, the U.S. economy will have a shortfall of 5 million college-educated workers by 2020. The disparity in college-going rates is particularly pronounced in students who come from underserved communities.
A college education is vital for the long-term success of our students. It’s no secret that higher education broadens exposure to opportunities and enables social mobility. Earlier this summer, Green Dot Public Schools celebrated our students’ accomplishments at graduation ceremonies across the country, watching with pride as many of our students approached the stage as high school seniors, but crossed it as soon-to-be college freshmen. As proud as we are of our students, we realize that high school graduation is the beginning of their next journey-- to and through college, which means the roles of our educators and staff don’t end when students no longer walk their halls.
Cooling the Melt
A phenomena known as “summer melt” is a representation of the obstacles faced by many first year and first generation college students. Summer melt is when a college-intending student fails to transition to college from high school. According to Harvard University's Center for Education and Policy Research, across the country 10-40 percent of college-intending students, particularly those from underserved communities, fail to enroll in college the fall after graduation. Despite being admitted, college preparation can be overwhelming, especially for first generation college-going students who lack experience in navigating post-secondary education systems like financial aid and class registration.
This is why Green Dot’s educational model has built-in supports in the form of summer workshops, support groups, mentors, and outreach. We want to ensure that our students don’t feel that the support systems they’ve come to know are inaccessible during this major life transition.
“By providing comprehensive supports, we are able ensure that our students have the tools and resources they need to persist,” said Janneth Johnson, Director of Counseling and Student Services at Green Dot Public Schools California. “We want our students to not only persist academically, but to be capable of navigating the personal and social dynamics that occur when you’re going into higher education.”
Every Step of the Way
Our summer workshops help students learn to navigate their university’s online portal, teach them to access campus resources, assist them with completing additional registration steps, and provide financial aid counseling. For students coming from families with no prior college history, navigating these pathways is often challenging. Additionally, Green Dot works with college staff to offer specialized programs for our alumni, believing that our collaboration will eventually influence how they serve the larger population of first generation college-going students.
At Cal State Los Angeles, we have been able to provide students with a three-day overnight experience that leads into their orientation. At this event, we connect incoming freshmen with Green Dot alumni who already attend CSULA to help students acclimate to the campus and ease their transition into college, making it easier for them to succeed!
Often, our students are the first in their family to attend college. This added pressure alongside the difficulty of adjusting to the academic and social challenges of college life can be overwhelming for even the strongest students. To address this, our Alumni Champions, a cohort of Green Dot teachers and counselors who provide alumni with the guidance they need to enroll in and graduate from college.
“If we’re serious about supporting students and transforming their lives, it’s not enough to show support for four years, cross our fingers, and hope for the best,” said Joel Snyder, Alumni Champion and Ánimo Pat Brown social studies teacher.
Alumni Champions offer networking to build peer-support groups and college-readiness workshops on subjects such as class enrollment and financial planning, and regularly touch base with alumni.
“Through emails, text messages, and in-person meetings, I try to keep encouraging and motivating our alumni to keep growing and working hard,” said William Heuisler, Ánimo South Los Angeles history teacher and Alumni Champion. “I want our alumni to feel supported beyond high school; and for them to know that the same people who worked so hard and cared about them while they were at school are still here and still care.”
Having these resources available provides students with academic, professional, and emotional supports to aid them in their transition into college, which can be a highly stressful period.
Through a vast network of college going Green Dot alumni, we are able to provide social and academic support to freshmen on their own campuses. These mentors are trained by Green Dot’s counseling team and receive a small scholarship for their work in helping students adapt and thrive during the vital first year in a college environment.
Mentors help their mentees register for classes, navigate resources, and become more comfortable on campus. Mentors are able to give back to others and enhance their own leadership skills: “Knowing someone who went through a similar struggle as you, who is from your community, or one like yours, can make you feel at home even though it might be far away,” said Sandra Estrada, Ánimo Leadership Charter High School alumna, current UCLA junior, and a Green Dot University Mentor. “I like to provide my mentees with a safe space, where they can talk about school, life, or anything else on their mind, because I can relate to them and many of the things they are feeling.”
Making it to their second year of college greatly increases the chances that a student will graduate college. After a year of support, we are confident that our students will thrive independently, and that some will become University Mentors, who provide the same support that they received.
Green Dot is committed to ensuring all students have successful transitions into postsecondary education; it is at the heart of all that we do--and our mission.
“We want our schools to be the launching pad for a transformative life experience—where students have professional and economic opportunities that many of their parents didn’t have, and where they control their own futures,” said Snyder. With the help of educators and staff, we’re helping our students make that vision a reality.