Volunteers needed

Tennessee Promise needs 9,000 more mentors to help record number of applicants get to college

PHOTO: Grace Tatter
Gov. Bill Haslam greets Nashville-area community college students to launch Tennessee Promise in 2014.

A record number of Tennessee high school seniors have applied to the state’s tuition-free community college program, requiring a record number of volunteers to help those students achieve their goals.

About 61,000 seniors applied by this week’s deadline for Tennessee Promise, the state’s pioneering program to get more students to attend in-state community or technical colleges. That’s up from almost 60,000 last year and about 58,000 in 2014, when the program launched.

Nearly 8,650 of this year’s applicants were from Shelby County, an increase of about 4 percent from last year.

But students aren’t enough to make the program work. The state needs 9,000 more volunteers to mentor applicants as they transition from high school to college.

“With this record number of applicants and a number of other indicators, it’s clear that Tennessee Promise is changing the conversation around going to college in Tennessee,” Gov. Bill Haslam said in a press release. “But we don’t just want students to apply to college; we want them to succeed in college and graduate.”

Haslam appealed to the Volunteer State for volunteers to step forth as mentors.

“The time commitment is small, but the impact can be life changing for students across our state and in your community,” he said.

Research shows that mentor relationships help students not only enroll in college, but finish.

Only two of Tennessee’s 95 counties — Hawkins and Grundy — have enough mentors to serve all of their applicants. Shelby County needs upward of 900 volunteers, said Krissy DeAlejandro, director of TNAchieves, the nonprofit organization that coordinates the scholarship program.

When Tennessee Promise launched in 2014, Tennessee became the nation’s first state to offer two years of community or technical college free of tuition and fees. Even as the state struggles with college preparedness, it’s seen a boost in community college enrollment. The program aims to make college accessible to all Tennessee students, regardless of income.

Mentors must be at least 21 years old and attend a one-hour training and two one-hour meetings with their students over the course of a year. On average, mentors spend about an hour a month working with three to seven students as they transition from high school to college, reminding them of important deadlines, encouraging them, and serving as a trusted resource. The deadline to apply as a mentor is Nov. 20.

summer intern

What do Nobu 57, the MTA and the DOE have in common? They provided internships in the city’s latest push for career education

PHOTO: Monica Disare
New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña and State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia at Thomas A. Edison Career and Technical Education High School.

Hundreds of New York City high school students are wrapping up internships in construction, hospitality, and business, the city announced on Thursday.

The 600 city-funded internships kicked off a new initiative called the Career and Technical Education Industry Scholars Program, which is part of New York City’s push to expand career education. Top city and state education officials are all backing a push for more CTE — but also acknowledge they’ve had trouble starting new programs.

Programs like this, which also included jobs in transportation, media and culinary arts, are one way the city is trying to fill in the gaps.

“We’re preparing students for their future beyond high school, and giving them an opportunity to practice and hone the valuable skills they’ve learned in the classroom,” Chancellor Carmen Fariña said in a statement.

City and state officials have been ratcheting up their support for CTE in recent weeks. In an uncharacteristic joint public appearance last month, the top three city and state education policymakers all visited a school in Queens to back career education and talk through obstacles to its expansion.

Recent data have shown that even students who do have access to CTE in school often miss out on opportunities to work in their field before graduation.

Despite New York City’s role as a business and tech hub, fewer than 1,600 city students completed internships in 2014, according to a report prepared for the Partnership for New York City. A 2016 Manhattan Institute report found that less than 2 percent of all New York City CTE students and less than 5 percent of high school seniors completed one.

At their meeting in Queens, top city and state officials noted that the process for winning state approval for a CTE program — a comprehensive review that allows schools to implement a multi-year curriculum — can be frustratingly lengthy, and doesn’t allow schools to keep pace as industries shift.

State officials have also increased the importance of CTE in recent years by allowing students to earn a diploma by substituting a career-focused track for one of the Regents exams typically required to graduate.

They have also suggested they are interested in providing more graduation options for students that require work experience. Still, it remains unclear whether enough schools offer the necessary courses to make this a real option for many students.

college prep

One Jeffco program is taking on a big problem: Many low-income students accepted to college never attend

Jefferson graduates take a personality test to prepare for their first day of classes at Red Rocks Community College. (Photo by Marissa Page/Chalkbeat)

On a recent evening, a dozen 2017 graduates of Edgewater’s Jefferson Junior-Senior High School were back at their alma mater, split into small groups at tables in the school library.

Community volunteers walked through a “pre-college checklist” with tips about paying tuition online, buying books and getting a student number. Most had already done all of those things.

There was even a personality test — designed to help the students get in touch with the traits that could help or hurt their chances of college success.

This mentorship program, in its first year, is designed to address a problem that often flies under the radar in the discussion about increasing college access: nationally, 40 percent of low-income students who have been accepted to college don’t show up to the first day, studies show.  

Many Jefferson students will be the first in their families to attend college, said Joel Newton, founder of the local nonprofit Edgewater Collective, which is running the mentorship program. Their parents might not have had any exposure to the process before, he said, rendering them easily overwhelmed by the sheer number of steps necessary to enroll at school.

“We have a high number of students that leave saying they’re going to college and a low number that actually go,” said Nathan Chamberlain, a counselor at Jefferson.

The program began in the fall and picked up again in June with a week of sessions including college visits, placement test preparation and other resources to help Jefferson’s college-bound seniors.

Edgewater Collective has held monthly mentoring sessions since, inviting community members and school staff to help students with tasks such as getting ID cards and registering for classes.

“The big thing we’ve noticed this summer in just kind of walking alongside students through this process is that a number of the roadblocks that pop up would be hard if we weren’t walking alongside them,” Newton said.

In the program’s first year, Newton said about half of Jefferson’s college-bound seniors participated. He said he hopes to expand the program to include not only more students continuing their academic careers, but also provide career readiness training.

“We did a lot of this on the fly,” said Chamberlain, the school counselor, adding that the organization will start the sessions earlier in the future. “It was easier for kids to fall through the cracks, and we didn’t have a chance to follow up with some.”

Newton said community members and local organizations such as Red Rocks Community College and Goodwill Industries loaned time and resources to the program’s pilot year. That included support to fund scholarships. About 80 percent of the college-bound graduates have scholarships, Newton said.

Additionally, Edgewater Collective teamed up with the nonprofit PCs for People to provide new computers to program participants who attend 80 percent or more of their first three weeks of classes.

“Incentives are great but more than just the incentives, we’re overdoing these first two years because we’re trying to create a culture,” Chamberlain said. “When you talk about a first generation school like ours, college isn’t the buzz … We’ve put incentives in place to have a mob mentality, in a positive way, of ‘everyone’s doing this, so I should do it too.’”