Embracing Technology to Ensure College & Career Counseling Success

By Carolina Martín, Executive Director

For low-income, first generation students, financial aid alone is not enough to guarantee college completion. At Students Rising Above (SRA), we remind ourselves of that guiding principle every day. Since being founded in 1998, our organization has transitioned into a comprehensive, year-round mentorship program that provides a full range of services including personal guidance and mentoring, internships and career guidance, and financial support from college application, through graduation and into the workforce.

SRA’s direct-service college success program is recognized as a national model with proven results:

  • More than 700 low-income, first generation students have successfully earned admission to four-year colleges across the country.
  • Ninety percent complete bachelor’s degrees within a 4.5-year average, and 87 percent are in career-ladder jobs or in graduate school within twelve months.
  • More than 48% graduate with no student loan debt. The remaining 52% have approximately $7,000 or less in student loans— well below the national average.

College2Careers Hub Introduction and Exponential Growth

Recognizing that we could help even more students, SRA launched the College2Careers Hub (SRA Hub) in 2014 to help scale its direct-service college success program. The SRA Hub is a free, online community that makes elements of its direct-service program available to thousands of students. Using technology, SRA is making measurable 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. In just over two years, we’ve gone from zero to 10,500 active student users.

Designed to target the needs of low-income students, the SRA Hub fills a critical gap in college counseling and provides “end-to-end” guidance throughout the college access-to-completion process. The SRA Hub offers personalized assistance surrounding such themes as scholarship information, SAT prep and support, the college admissions process, campus-specific information on student life, and extremely popular career development webinars.  

Success is in the Details

Although the SRA Hub is in its infancy, preliminary data is promising:

  • In November, 2016, a National Student Clearinghouse college/persistence report showed 2,487 students who used the SRA Hub during their senior year in high school have since graduated college. This data is encouraging since most SRA Hub users are either still in high school or just entering college. It will be several more years before SRA can offer comprehensive college completion stats.
  • Users log onto the SRA Hub an average of 5.44 times per month, view an average of 4.6 pages per session and stay logged in for an average of 9.07 minutes. User surveys show that 90% of SRA Hub users find the service “helpful” or “extremely helpful,” with the top three most-liked features being the Student Community, Advisor Support and Articles and Links.
  • In addition to student users, more than 45 high schools and nonprofit organizations are currently partnering with SRA to integrate the Hub into their college access/success curricula. In states such as California, with an average of 945:1 students-to-counselors ratio, the SRA Hub is filling a significant college advising gap, particularly for low-income students. More partnerships are constantly being added.

SRA continues to evaluate college completion statistics, and is expanding how to best use traditional college success metrics with how to best draw direct correlations between online student engagement and their college preparation behaviors.

The Critical Partnership Role

In March, 2017 SRA received a $500,000 grant from The James Irvine Foundation to expand its online platform for low-income, first-generation college students. The award enables SRA to reach more students through the Hub by forming new partnerships with high schools, community colleges and four-year universities in California.

In addition, SRA will create additional resources, information and tools to facilitate college completion. Not only does support from The James Irvine Foundation enable SRA to develop the infrastructure and partnerships needed to scale the Hub across the state of California, it increases the ability to efficiently continue its nationwide rollout.

The Importance of Ongoing, Personal Support

The SRA Hub is unique from other existing online support tools due to its interactivity— between students and professionally trained SRA Advisors for professional support, and among students for peer-to-peer support.

While there are hundreds of digitally-based tools designed to help students through the college application process, relatively few offer support after college enrollment. Even fewer guide students all the way through college completion and into the workforce.

Today’s SRA Hub users are tomorrow’s college graduates that are breaking the cycle of poverty within their own families, serving their communities, and providing a new generation of leaders and employees from diverse backgrounds.

For more information about the SRA Hub, contact Vanessa Barbic at vbarbic@studentsrisingabove.org

Carolina Martín is Executive Director of Students Rising Above, an award-winning nonprofit based in San Francisco that works with more than 10,000 low-income, first generation high school and college students across the U.S.

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