Cultivating Extraordinary Youth

Leveraging technology to help students break the cycle of poverty.

GUEST COLUMN | by Lynne Martin

CREDIT Students Rising Above.jpgMore than 10,000 students are now using the Students Rising Above (SRA) free online College2CareersHub, and that milestone is an opportune moment to envision the potential of utilizing technology to help break the cycle of poverty in the U.S.

Students Rising Above is an award-winning nonprofit organization that enables low-income, first-generation college students to attend a four-year college and secure a career-ladder job. SRA provides personal guidance and mentoring, internships and career guidance, and financial support from college application, through graduation and into the workforce.

We believe that all children deserve the opportunity to achieve prosperity through education and hard work, irrespective of their socioeconomic status.

Our established, direct services program, which supports about 450 college students per year, has an unmatched success rate and is recognized as a national model. Ninety percent of SRA students complete college, and 87 percent are in career-ladder jobs or in graduate school twelve months after completing a four-year degree. Yet despite our traditional program’s success, we realized we must do more to help young people achieve the dream of a college education— and leveraging technology seemed to be the immediate answer.

The Hub ports our direct services program model to the web, and in just two years is becoming a runaway hit. It provides high school and college students with one-to-one professional mentoring and a host of invaluable college resources, and demonstrates that technology, combined with deep expertise and people who really care, may be one of the best solutions yet for getting low-income, first-generation students into and through college, and on to a career ladder job.

Online Solves Many Problems

Porting a traditional program like ours to the Hub solves many problems for high school and college students, as well as increasingly resource-constrained schools.

First, the Hub fills a widening gap in schools. It provides information about college admissions, financial aid, career readiness, among other important tasks. The extensive resource center answers virtually every question about college, from how to complete a financial aid form to dealing with a difficult roommate. There are templates for creating letters of recommendation, a personal budget, as well as resumes, cover and thank you letters.

Second, the platform provides a wealth of information on how to find a job – how to write a cover letter, resume, and prepare for an interview. Most high school and college students simply can’t get one-to-one advising to help with these issues, let alone find a single source of high-quality, comprehensive information.

Third, this gives students the best of both worlds: An opportunity to talk to a professionally trained advisor and to interact with students in similar circumstances. Via professionally trained online advisors, students can get real-time answers to questions, with responses no later than 24 hours. In addition, we’ve found that the interaction among students may be as important as anything on the Hub. Online, students often feel more comfortable sharing than they might face-to-face. An online community allows students to engage in ways they can’t in the physical world.

Finally, this is is a cost-effective way for high schools and colleges nationwide to achieve their mission. Most educators want to provide the assistance that the Hub offers, but can’t for budgetary reasons. For example, in public high schools today, there is just one college counselor for every 1,000 students. Currently more than 45 partners, including high schools, community organizations and non-profits, are working closely with the Hub to provide a curriculum-based program for teachers and counselors.

A Big, Bold Vision

We believe that all children deserve the opportunity to achieve prosperity through education and hard work, irrespective of their socioeconomic status. Our effort boldly supports these objectives and is a new way of leveraging technology to make progress in one of the most important social issues of the day— increasing the abysmally low college completion rate for low-income, first-generation college students.

Lynne Martin is Executive Director of Students Rising Above. To learn more about the Students Rising Above College2Careers Hub, contact Vanessa Barbic, vbarbic@studentsrisingabove.org.

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