Developing Ecosystems of Support for Five College Populations

Perhaps the most riveting moment of the Depicting the Ecosystems of Support and Financial Stability for Five College Promise Populations Symposium co-hosted by ETS and College Promise Campaign in Princeton, N.J., was five students sharing their stories of how they were able to attend and complete college, while often having to pause because of the roaring cheers from the audience.

There was Kimberly Lowe Sawyer of the Graduate! Philadelphia program, who talked about how the day she enrolled in college “the only money I had was my car fare and lunch money” and how much she was “intimidated” when terms such as application fees and transcripts came up. Today, she’s close to completing her doctorate at Holy Family University.

Just as impressive was Samantha Estes, a combat veteran, who spent six years as a medic saving for college until she had a child which resulted in a drastic cut in her G.I. Bill benefits. Despite having to get a loan to be able to care for her three children, she completed her biology degree from Xavier University at an accelerated rate.

I’m here as a testament, but I’m not the only one. I’m here to say that, if given the chance, nontraditional students and people from challenging backgrounds have more to give.

~ Kimberly Lowe Sawyer

Tia Ryans was a runaway and incarcerated as a teen, but graduated from Rutgers University in May. “Finally being able to take classes in my mid-20s gave me an incentive, a place where I could not run from and it challenged me,” she said. Now she is giving back to others as the founder of F.O.R.T.E. (Forcing Out Recidivism Through Education) House. The organization provides healthy living environments for students going from incarceration to postsecondary education.

Sawyer and Estes have not forgotten their roots either. Sawyer’s current doctoral research focuses on the validation of nontraditional students. “I’m here as a testament, but I’m not the only one. I’m here to say that, if given the chance, nontraditional students and people from challenging backgrounds have more to give.” Estes mentors student veterans.

College Promise programs have been established in more than 300 cities and towns — from Los Angeles to Boston, and from Houston to Kalamazoo. Nationwide, 24 governors and their legislatures have put College Promise programs in place to complement state and federal aid. They seek to increase postsecondary opportunities and attainment goals to enable a well-prepared citizenry for their states.

These conversations are some of the best conversations I’ve had in five years. What we’ve done is captured the quests of everyone in an action plan we can execute going forward. We’ve got every part of the country and every perspective represented.

~ Martha Kanter
Pictured, from left, Efren Lopez, University of California, Santa Cruz; Samantha Estes, Xavier University; Klayre Guzman, San Jose Evergreen Community College District; Tia Ryans, F.O.R.T.E. House; and Kimberly Lowe-Sawyer, Graduate! Philadelphia

 

Promise experts from the research, practitioner and finance communities worked on papers over the past six months to identify and frame out “Ecosystems of Support for Five College Promise Populations,” including traditional-age students (18–24); adult students (25 years and up); DREAMers; student veterans; and incarcerated/formerly incarcerated students. These papers were highlighted at the conference.

Martha Kanter, the Executive Director of the College Promise Campaign, was ecstatic when asked how the conference was going. “These conversations are some of the best conversations I’ve had in five years. What we’ve done is captured the quests of everyone in an action plan we can execute going forward. We’ve got every part of the country and every perspective represented,” she said.

In looking back at the conference, ETS Senior Research Scientist Catherine Millett said, “While you see commonalities across populations, we’ve been able to highlight the important differences as well. If you’re looking at students as one big group, you’re not looking at what they need to be successful as an individual.”