City Connects goes to college – in Ohio

We know City Connects works in elementary schools where our coordinators are in the school buildings working closely with students, families, teachers, and administrators. And we’ve adapted the City Connects model to work in high schools, where students are older and have more latitude to decide what they will and won’t participate in.

But five years ago the Mathile Family Foundation asked a pointed question: How could City Connects be adapted to work in a community college setting?

The challenges were obvious: elementary and high schools provide immediate, all-day access to students and teachers. And parents often come to school. But in colleges, students are independent adults. And their presence on campus can be fleeting. In addition, City Connects would have to adapt its model to meet the needs of these “adults” — many of whom are often still teenagers.

We decided to give it a try.

City Connects received a grant from Mathile to do this work with Sinclair Community College. Working with Sinclair, we started by combing through the literature on student persistence, and we developed a list of success indicators for community college.

We used this information to co-design a practice of Holistic Student Support. Sinclair calls this holistic advising, “A system of intrusive, proactive student supports that address both academic and non-academic factors.”

Last year, we hired a College Success Advisor and launched a pilot program with 90 students in Sinclair’s Liberal Arts Career Community. Next year we’ll expand into the STEM, Business, and Health Career Communities.

Now, instead of doing a whole class review to look at the four domains we use in elementary and high schools — academic, social-emotional, physical, and family — the College Success Advisor uses our system to create a map of students’ lives in these four domains:

  • academics
  • college and career goals
  • financial needs, and
  • personal challenges

Students are also placed in three tiers of need — standard, specialized, and intensive — and the advisor connects each student to tailored services.

“A lot of it is helping students navigate the system,” Patrice DiNatale explains. She’s the Director of New Practices at City Connects.

The map facilitates that navigational help by giving the advisor a bird’s eye view of factors such as grade point averages and the number of developmental education classes students are taking. The advisor can see whether students are making steady progress in their area of study and if students have career goals.

The advisor also helps students with financial planning and figuring out what to do when financial aid doesn’t cover all their educational expenses. This might mean connecting students to services at Sinclair, a local scholarship, or a part-time job.

Some students face personal challenges such as homelessness, serious health crises, or child care issues because they have children of their own to raise.

How does the advisor help? For homeless students, the advisor makes referrals to a community organization that helps adults find temporary housing. In the case of a student who was hospitalized, the advisor communicated with the student’s professors and identified assignments that could be completed while the student was recovering. And when students need child care, the advisor refers students to child care services at Sinclair and in the community.

Even among adults, City Connects implements its core practice of connecting students to school and community-based services that meet their individual needs.

As we move forward, we’ll evaluate Sinclair’s City Connects program to better understand what works and why, so we can do a better job of driving the right resources to the right adult at the right time.

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