Education - Page 4 - Attracting and retaining students

- Page 4
Attracting and retaining students
Initiatives aim to make college more affordable and welcoming

By Gregory J. Alexander, Contributing Writer

The rising cost of higher education is one of the most pressing issues in the U.S. today.Recognizing that the cost of college was a serious obstacle to many Baltimore County residents, the Community College of Baltimore County (CCBC) and the Baltimore County government teamed up to launch the Baltimore County College Promise program, which allows qualified students to complete their degrees and certificate programs debt free. Funded by Baltimore County, the program helps fill in some of the financial gaps – as a “last dollar in” scholarship, it covers tuition and fees for students after they have applied all other financial awards, such as Pell grants and state aid.

“I’ve been at CCBC for 16 years, and this is one of the most exciting programs in my time here,” says Jennifer Dagostin, assistant director of admissions at CCBC. There are certain academic and financial eligibility criteria (see sidebar), such as having an adjusted gross household income of $69,000 or less. “The income amount was chosen as that is the median salary of Baltimore County residents,” says Dagostin.

“I worked with the first family who was eligible for the program. He was a recent high school graduate with a 3.2 GPA, and his family had an income of $67,000, so they were not eligible for many federal funds. This program helps middle class families like his afford college,” says Dagostin. Additionally, many workplace certificate programs are not eligible for Pell grants.

“The College Promise Program is perfect for families that may make too much money to be eligible for Pell grants, but too little money to be able to afford college tuition,” adds Sandra Kurtinitis, Ph.D., president of CCBC. Kurtinitis adds that the College Promise program is a nationwide initiative and similar programs are already in place in several states. “It’s a great investment in students and their families,” she says. Kurtinitis notes that the late Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz was instrumental in getting the program enacted with the help of the county council.

The College Promise program at CCBC will initially focus on those students who have graduated high school in the past two years.“Those who are most likely to be college ready are those who have recently graduated high school, so we wanted to start with that demographic,” says Kurtinitis.

The program also dictates that students enroll full time and, if pursuing an associate degree, students must complete the degree in three years. “Sixty-five percent of our graduates take six to seven years to finish their associate degree because they are working professionals. There is no shame in taking that long, but hopefully this program will accelerate the process,” says Kurtinitis.

Starting next year, another exciting program is the Maryland Community College Promise Scholarship that provides tuition assistance for in-state students to attend a local community college. There are certain requirements, including that award recipients must sign a service obligation agreement, agreeing to begin full-time employment in the State within one year after completion of the vocational certificate, certificate or associate degree. The student must also maintain employment in the State of Maryland for at least one year for each year that they received the scholarship.

Blazing a Trail

Starting college can be an intimidating process for any young adult; however, it can be even more daunting for those students who are the first in their family to attend college. With this in mind, in 2010, Notre Dame of Maryland University (NDMU) launched the Trailblazers Program to help provide ongoing support to help first-generation Women’s College students earn their degrees.

“Our goal is to support these women from the day they move in until the day they walk across that stage on graduation day,” says Tiffany Lathan Smith, director of the Trailblazers Program at NDMU. Smith notes that the program is an allencompassing one that supports students during their entire tenure at NDMU – whether it’s four years or two years for transfer students. “I was a first-generation student myself, so I know what they are going through. I take this very personally,” says Smith, who credits the peer network formed by first-generation students as a key to success.

There are several aspects of Trailblazers, including mentorship, guidance, assistance with student services and workshops. “We help them with deciding on a major, understanding different financing options, networking opportunities and finding internships that align with their career goals,” says Smith. To help ensure that students are aware of the program, Smith attends college open houses and freshman orientation and reaches out multiple times to students who have declared that they are a first-generation student.

Helen Contreras, a first-generation student at NDMU, says that she heard about Trailblazers at a college open house. “When I heard about the services they offered, it was very reassuring that I would be in good hands at Notre Dame,” Contreras says, adding that NDMU’s small size allows for more personalized attention. “They have workshops on financial planning, time management, deciding on a major, study habits and managing stress in college,” she says. Contreras has been so pleased with her experience in the program that she is now a Trailblazers Scholars liaison for Latina women. “This year’s freshman class at Notre Dame is the largest ever, and a large percentage of that are Latina women. Some of these students’ parents do not speak or read English well, so it can be difficult when filling out financial aid paperwork. We help guide them through the process and sometimes pair them with a mentor,” says Contreras. “I also want to encourage more Latinas to attend Notre Dame.

Recently the Trailblazers program launched a new initiative called “I’m First,” where faculty and staff who were first-generation students themselves wear buttons and place signs on their office doors that proclaim, “I’m First.” “It’s important for students to see those stickers and know that these individuals know what you’re going through and are there to support you,” says Smith.

A New Civic Approach

Salisbury University has shaken things up at freshman orientation in an effort to encourage incoming students to have meaningful conversations with each other through civic reflection. Salisbury is the first U.S. university to incorporate civic reflection on such a large scale, as all incoming students, regardless of major or age, will participate in the initiative.

In prior years, incoming students were assigned a book to read during the summer and discuss it once they arrived on campus. However,

Students, continued on page 11

Baltimore County College Promise Program

• Covers tuition and mandatory fees for eligible students after applying all financial awards, such as Pell grants and state aid.
• Awardees may apply the scholarship to their first degree or credential sought at CCBC.
• Students still need to cover other costs such as books, transportation, supplies and materials.

To qualify, you must:
• Be a Baltimore County resident.
• Be a graduate of a public, parochial or private high school within the past two years, with a GPA of 2.5 or better.
• Be a home school graduate within the past two years and have earned a GED score of at least 165.
• Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)
• Have an adjusted gross household income of $69,000 or less.
• Enroll full-time.

To maintain the scholarship:
If pursuing an associate degree, you must:
• File a FAFSA each year
• Maintain full-time enrollment (minimum of 12 credits during fall and spring semesters)
• Maintain a minimum cumulative 2.5 Grade Point Average (GPA)
•Successfully complete degree within three years

Source: CCBC website •

PHOTO DESCRIPTION:  Above left: Notre Dame of Maryland University Trailblazers Class of 2018 graduate celebration.