Reaching Out: A Guide to Increasing College Transfer and Completion with a Community-Based Partner, On Point for College

Posted by On Point for College on December 11, 2018

In September 2014, the U.S. Department of Education made its first round of awards under the First in the World (FITW) grant program. According to the Department of Education, the intent of the program is to support the development, replication, and dissemination of innovative solutions
to address the persistent challenges at-risk students face when earning a post secondary degree.

Nearly 500 higher education institutions submitted proposals for the initial FITW grant. Of those, the U.S. Department of Education awarded 24 grants to colleges and universities across the country including a $2.88 million award to the State University of New York at Oswego (SUNY Oswego). SUNY Oswego’s FITW “Transfer Gateways and Completion” grant has four major components
defined as 1) institutional agreements, 2) program pathways, 3) preparatory and transition courses, and 4) advisement and support.

The college uses a collective impact 1 model in the FITW grant to improve transfer, retention and completion from two-year community colleges to a four-year college. Partners include three New York state public community colleges – Cayuga, Mohawk Valley and Onondaga – and one independent community-based organization, On Point for College (On Point).

On Point is a nationally-recognized nonprofit organization based in Syracuse and Utica that is noteworthy for culturally-relevant advising and proactive support services to very vulnerable youth and young adults. The organization has a long history of community-based recruitment, beyond high schools, of individuals with college potential that traditional college access and
success programs often overlook. They recruit through 27 community locations such as homeless shelters, Boys and Girls Clubs, municipal housing, libraries, refugee schools, etc.

Most On Point participants are 17- to 29-year-old high school graduates who are under- employed and who thought college was out of reach for them. On Point is the organization upon which the advisement and support component of the grant is based. On Point has built organizational acumen and solutions specific to the challenges of low-income and first-generation
college students who frequently have additional risk factors, such as students who:

 Lack an active parent in his or her life
 May be a single parent
 Have aged out of the foster care system
 Face homelessness or housing insecurity
 Struggle with hunger or food insecurity
 Are immigrants
 Have refugee status
 Are court-involved

1 Kania, J. & Kramer, M. (2011). Collective Impact. Stanford Social Innovation Review, Winter 2011, 36-41.
Reaching Out: A Guide to Increasing College Transfer and Completion with a Community-Based Partner, On Point for College, p. vii

In addition to three On Point advisors, the grant includes four transfer advisors located at the partner institutions. On Point has provided training to these transfer advisors who are staff members at the participating institutions. The institutional staff has reciprocated and trained On Point staff with information and resources pertinent to their particular colleges. Since the implementation of the grant, the stakeholders have learned from other FITW grantees
and grant officers that partnering with a core service provider such as On Point, for the advising component and its valuable volunteer network, is unique among the grantees.

Based on early inquiry performed by the authors, separate from the ongoing independent evaluation, stakeholders find that On Point provides critical support, beyond “business-as-usual” advising, to students who are navigating the nuances of the college enrollment, course selection financial aid, and transfer process. This early-stage inquiry also provides valuable crossinstitutional lessons in implementing college practices that support very vulnerable students – all with the purpose of improved transfer and retention. The open communication, relationships, trust, and willingness to make changes, are all seen as bedrocks of the collaboration.

This guide summarizes this particular FITW model, the case for using such a model, and early lessons and opportunities for other communities that wish to adopt a similar model.

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