By guest blogger, Kristin J. Boyer, Executive Director, Trellis Foundation
One of the aspects of College Signing Day that I love the most is getting to look backward and forward at the same time. This amazing event lets us celebrate students’ success in high school as well as their aspirations for a future college or university degree. For an organization like Trellis Foundation, it is a chance to witness the commitment of our students to a goal that will have a big impact on their future and to hear their stories of determination and hope. It is the manifestation of thousands of dreams realized for our first generation college going students, and it is incredibly rewarding to be part of a community of practice that contributes to that success.
For more than a decade, Trellis Foundation, through its former work as TG Philanthropy, has been partnering with nonprofit organizations, schools, colleges and universities to ensure that more students make it to and through college. As we look backward, here’s what we’ve come to know:
- Relationships matter. Whether it is in the context of an advising, mentoring, coaching or teaching relationship, having a caring adult in their corner makes a huge difference for our first generation college going students. It is often the deciding factor in whether they enroll, persist and graduate with a certificate or degree from an institution of higher ed. Annual regional celebrations such as College Signing Day send an important message that the community holds the expectation that ALL of our students should prepare for and succeed in postsecondary education.
- Financial aid matters. The level of “unmet” financial need for students has been increasing dramatically. Unmet financial need is the amount of money remaining after all financial aid – including student loans – has been applied to the student’s balance. In many cases, unmet need is related more to fees and cost of living rather than tuition. And, that can lead to food and housing insecurity for students – reflected by the growing number of food pantries now located on college campuses across the state. Our students are in need of greater financial aid to be able to afford the cost of college.
- Systems matter. We are currently getting the results that our systems were designed to produce. In Central Texas, achievement gaps persist – for race/ethnicity, for income, and for gender. Fortunately, we’re able to collect and analyze data more thoroughly and more quickly than ever, and we’re beginning to see stronger alignment of K-12, higher education, and workforce systems that can improve outcomes for students. The solutions that we seek are about systems serving students, rather than students failing the system.
So much of what we’ve learned about student success has come through the hard work of our partners in Central Texas. E3 Alliance, through its coordination of the Austin College Access Network, has helped build connections between nonprofits, districts, and institutions to increase policy alignment, sharing of effective practices, and an understanding of the data and outcomes we’re all working to achieve. It’s been fulfilling to be a part of the progress. We’re grateful to be able to see the transformation in the lives of students and experience the vibrancy of our community through events like College Signing Day.
For more information about College Signing Day, visit www.ctxsigningday.com
For more information about Trellis Foundation, visit www.trellisfoundation.org.