January, 2018

Efforts to help students get to college are always changing, so we caught up with two non-profits to see what’s new.

College Possible’s Tech Connected program

College Possible helps high school students in Minnesota and several other states navigate the college admissions process and become successful college students. Their traditional campus model focuses on urban centers where schools may have fewer resources and lots of students.

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“About three years ago, we went around rural Minnesota meeting with principals who told us they were interested in a college access program,” said Shannon Oldenburg, program manager for the Tech Connected program. “We saw that there was just as much need in rural areas, and we wanted to get them connect to our recourses.”

While interested in serving these communities, College Possible wasn’t sure it’s traditional campus model would work. So a new offering was created. The Tech Connected program is a virtual college access program that allows students to connect with College Possible coaches digitally. Using email, Facebook, Snapchat, text and Instagram allows the Tech Connected coaches to reach students on the platforms they’re already using.

“One of the most unique parts of the Tech Connected program is that it’s highly individualized,” Oldenburg said. “Many college access programs use a cohort model, which can be very successful. Tech Connected is a one-on-one model. We do have a set curriculum, but our Tech Connected coaches customize the program to each student to help them the best they can.”

As of 2016-17, 90 percent of Tech Connected seniors applied to college and of those, 99 percent were accepted. “Last year was our first year with seniors, and we’re really proud of them,” Oldenburg said. “Our retention rates are really good — we still need to grow, but it’s a good start.”

“There aren’t a lot of organizations doing anything like this,” Oldenburg said. “So we’re creating our own best practices.”

Breakthrough Twin Cities is deepening its program

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Since 2005, Breakthrough Twin Cities’ six-year college access program has focused on getting students of color prepared for college. After the first alums graduated from college in 2015, Breakthrough decided to deepen its focus to include student loan debt.

“It’s not enough for us just to focus on getting into college anymore, we are making sure students don’t graduate with a huge debt load,” said Daniel Bernal, senior program director. “We noticed an increasing number of students attending large universities at a high cost, so we’ve really started to focus on getting students to look at different types of schools. Private colleges offer choice both academically and financially.”

The ultimate goal of the program is to have college change the students’ lives, but that can only happen financially if they graduate with a manageable debt load, Bernal said.

Breakthrough is starting conversations with students to build their comfort with a wide varied of institutions. “Our students come from large urban high schools and often don’t think of private colleges as an option,” Bernal said. “We’re now getting students on campus visits and building bridges with private colleges.”

The focus on choice and student debt has paid off. Of their alums attending college, Breakthrough Twin Cities has a 60-70 percent graduation rate, with students receiving grants and scholarships that cover on average 76 percent of the cost of attendance.

By Tom Lancaster