Analyzes student-level data of the National College Access Network (NCAN) member organizations; compares results nationally; and profiles five NCAN organizations that have shown promise in supporting low-income, first-generation students succeed in higher education.

“For years, or in some cases decades, National College Access Network (NCAN) member organizations have provided college access and success services to students who have been traditionally underrepresented in postsecondary education. NCAN students are typically low-income, often of color, and frequently from families without a history of college-going. For the more than two million individuals that NCAN members assist annually, these services are often the key that unlocks the door to postsecondary education, changing lives and communities.

These opportunities are critical not just as a matter of equity (because a student’s ZIP code or skin color should not predetermine their educational opportunities) but also of economics (because the United States faces a significant shortage of degrees of all kinds in upcoming decades). To reach President Obama’s goal for the United States to reclaim its position as the country with the highest proportion of college-educated adults, college access and success support for low-income students is more important than ever” (p.3).

The report, published in December 2014, seeks to answer the following question: “How much of a difference are [NCAN organizations] making for those students?” (p.3).

In order to answer the above question, NCAN worked with the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center (NSCRC) to conduct a benchmarking study to examine enrollment and completion rates for students served by NCAN members. Data was gathered from 24 NCAN member programs on the students they served who graduated from high school in 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2013.

(Abstractor: Author and Website Staff)

Full publication title:  Closing the College Graduation Gap: National College Access and Success Benchmarking Report - December 2014

Major Findings & Recommendations

The report found that, “Students served by NCAN-member programs outperform expectations for college enrollment and completion, demonstrating that current national lower levels of postsecondary attainment for poor and minority students are not destiny. Specifically, the study showed: 1. College enrollment rates for NCAN students were comparable to students who attended higher income high schools. 2. The six-year college completion rate of NCAN students who graduated from high school in 2007 was approaching the national rate for all high school graduates in that year and exceeded significantly the completion rate for low-income, first-generation students from the high school class of 2003.” (p.3-4) The report also profiles five NCAN organizations who participated in the benchmarking study to provide additional details on how NCAN members serve students. Those profiles include the following highlights: 1. College Now (Greater Cleveland) “Program leadership provides both a clear direction of where the organization should go and allows the leeway for program staff to go in that direction” (p.8). 2. Partnership for the Future (Glen Allen, Virginia) “Staff can empathize with the students they serve because 95% of PFF staff are first-generation college students who had their own challenging circumstances” (p.9). 3. The Scholarship Foundation of St. Louis (St. Louis, Missouri) “Passion. ‘All of those things also don’t do us much good if we don’t have the passion…From volunteers to scholarship recipients to program staff and board members, everyone is so passionate about the mission. I think that’s why collaborations work because we make students a priority and put them first.’ – Faith Sandler, Executive Director” (p.12) 4. Bottom Line (Boston, Worcester MA, New York City, Chicago) “The game changers for us are conversations around finances and which colleges to apply to. There are a lot of students out there from families with an EFC of zero, and [schools] will gladly charge that family $20,000 per year. There are other schools that will give as good or better an education, and from which that student can graduate with zero debt” (p.13). 5. I know I can (Columbus, Ohio) “Timing. Aligning programs and information so that students and parents get what they need at the right time. Starting in 6th grade and moving through the college-going continuum, IKIC times messages to students and parents so that they receive important message multiple times and receive others ‘just in time’ to be actionable” (p. 1). (Abstractor: Author and Website Staff)