College Graduation is the Bottom Line for the “New Forgotten Half”

Getting in to college is no longer enough. Students have to leave with a degree.

The New Forgotten Half and Research Directions to Support Them, focuses mainly on community colleges, which serve a large proportion of low-income and first-generation college students, but also churn out many students who walk away without a degree. The authors outline the challenges facing these students and suggest areas where research can guide schools, counselors, students, and families, and ultimately help young people complete their education. This goal—getting kids to and through college—is at the heart of what we do every day at Bottom Line.

Like the authors of The New Forgotten Half, who call for researchers to examine ways that counseling and guidance can better serve young people, we know the importance of effective counseling as a major source of direction for students who often struggle in the transition to college. We provide consistent, one-on-one guidance to low-income students who are among the first in their family to go to college.

Our Access program is designed to help every student get into a four-year college that is an affordable option and a good fit. Starting in the junior or senior year of high school, students meet with a counselor who helps to navigate the complex and often intimidating college application process. Here in New York, high school guidance counselors typically serve close to 300 students, and this level of personalized support is almost unheard of. But while support with the college application and financial aid process is important, it’s the support during the first years of college that is essential to keeping students on track with their degree plans. In our Success Program, we continue to work with students throughout their time in college until they earn their degree.

Kadine Cousins, a Bottom Line Success student, worked with her counselor to make a successful academic adjustment to college. Kadine recalls, “My Bottom Line counselor Victoria encouraged me to talk to my professors. She even would pretend to be the professor, and had me act out what I would say in different scenarios.” Victoria also helped Kadine stay on track in each of her classes. Kadine admits, “I usually don’t like to look at my grades because I get very stressed. But Victoria always asks me, ‘What is your grade in each class, and what do you need to do next to improve?’ She’s very optimistic, but she also makes sure I know where I’m at.”

In addition to academics, Victoria also helped Kadine navigate complications with her financial aid—an obstacle that, as The New Forgotten Half points out, is one of the reasons that nearly half of community college students drop out. Kadine at one point owed several thousand dollars to her school, a sum she could not afford. “I remember sitting down with my mom to try to figure out what to do, and I didn’t know what would happen,” Kadine remembers. “That’s when Victoria called. She had worked with me to find an emergency scholarship, and it came through just in time. Every time someone asks me what the best moment of my life was, I tell them that story. That was the one of the highlights of my life.”

Without that support, the academic and financial challenges that Kadine faced might have forced her to drop out of school. Like the authors of “The New Forgotten Half,” we know that, in a 21st Century economy, there is little economic payoff for students who don’t complete college. Getting into college is only a means to an end, and there are academic, social, and financial obstacles that students will face once they get into college. Without knowledgeable guidance, these obstacles can make a college degree feel out of reach.

The challenges that today’s college students face while earning a degree are real. Without a counselor to turn to, students run the risk of becoming a part of the new forgotten half. But we’re out to prove that it doesn’t have to be that way.

Ruth Genn is executive director of Bottom Line New York.

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