St. Louis Graduates

Community plan aims to increase post-secondary degrees among low-income and first-generation students

St. Louis, Missouri – A group of college access service providers, funders, educators and business leaders released today a community plan for increasing post-secondary degrees among students in the St. Louis region.  Getting Ready, Getting In and Getting Through is an action plan with a big goal of increasing the percent of adults with a post-secondary degree to 50 percent by 2020 by focusing on degree completion among low-income and first-generation students. Traditionally, these are the students who face the greatest difficulty in enrolling in and persisting to a degree in post-secondary education.

The plan was developed by the St. Louis Regional College Access Pipeline Project (CAP), a collaboration of college access service providers, philanthropic and business leaders formed two years ago to address the issue of degree completion among low-income students.

“Our experience has been that students and their families need help navigating the college access process which can be overwhelming to those who don’t have someone in their family who has gone to college,” said Faith Sandler, co-chair of the St. Louis Regional College Access Pipeline Project and executive director of Scholarship Foundation of St. Louis. Unfortunately, only about one-third of students in the region have any college access services in their schools. At the same time, many high schools have multiple service providers but those services are not well coordinated.

“Having a post-secondary degree enables students to not only fulfill academic aspirations but achieve greater economic stability,” added Jane Donahue, co-chair of CAP and vice president at Deaconess Foundation. In Missouri, a full-time worker with a bachelor’s degree earns 156 percent more than a high school graduate and 230 percent more than a high school dropout. Unfortunately, less than 20 percent of area adults have a bachelor’s degree and only 9 percent have an associate’s degree.

The CAP community plan includes recommendations to strengthen the college access pipeline which calls for students setting college as a goal, being academically prepared, attending a high school with a college-going culture, navigating the process, connecting to financial resources and persisting to graduation. The recommendations were developed by a cadre of 70 people organized into three workgroups who developed the plan over six months in 2010-2011. The process was facilitated by American Institutes for Research (AIR) to ensure all recommendations are rooted in the best practice literature. The planning process was made possible with funding from TG Public Benefit Grant Program.

Several of the recommendations are already in the implementation process, including:

  • Helping students and parents navigate the college access process: Today CAP launches its website, www.StLouisGraduates.org, which provides useful links to students and parents who are developing a college plan or in the process of implementing one. The site also includes information for educators and college access professionals as well as for those in the community who want to support students.
  • Making financial resources more accessible: Scholarship Foundation of St. Louis and Greater Saint Louis Community Foundation have developed a database of private scholarships available to students in the St. Louis area. The two organizations are also piloting the use of an online common scholarship application to make completing paperwork easier for students. Wells Fargo Advisors has provided support for building on the current spreadsheet database to create a searchable database that will allow students to enter information about themselves and generate some prospective scholarship matches. The searchable database is expected to go online later this year at www.StLouisGraduates.org.
  • Professional development: To better help students, college access service providers need to better coordinate their services and share best practices. Over the past year, CAP has convened a bimonthly Lunch & Learn peer exchange where front-line college access service providers shared learning on parent engagement, identifying a post-secondary match for students, and helping students and families navigate financial aid and the FAFSA. CAP recently received a grant from TG Public Benefit Grant Program to develop a Professional Development Institute that will extend the peer exchange model to in-school counselors and administrators as well as higher education staff focused on college transition and persistence.

CAP’s role is to continue to serve as a convener supporting college access and success through coordination, communication and advocacy.

The executive summary of the community plan as well as the full strategic plan are available on the CAP website at www.StLouisGraduates.org.

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