How Recent College Graduates Transform Communities

How Recent College Graduates Transform Communities

By Kim Mazzuca, President and CEO of 10,000 Degrees.

This article are originally published on Forbes.

Michelle Obama once famously stated, “You have to stay in school. You have to go to college. You have to get your degree. Because the one thing people can’t take away from you is your education.”

I can’t help but think the former First Lady was speaking as much as an influential leader as she is a mother of two dynamic daughters. I, too, have two daughters, each of whom recently earned her bachelor’s degree. I am both extremely proud and more than a little relieved they were able to attend and graduate from four-year colleges — there is only so much a mother can do to encourage, support and, of course, worry.

That said, despite a parent’s high hopes, getting to and through college is a promise one makes to herself, because it’s very much a personal journey of discovery. Unfortunately, that promise is getting harder to keep, especially for students facing complicated barriers to post-secondary education.

That’s why “college success” organizations play a pivotal role in providing targeted support to students from low-income backgrounds attempting to realize their college dreams. Likewise, corporate, foundation and community commitments are paramount to ensuring college is accessible to all students. That said, when it comes to sustainable student support, I believe face-to-face near-peer mentoring is the most dramatically effective tool in today’s college success toolkit.

Making College Success a Personal Mission

As President and CEO of 10,000 Degrees, a leading college success nonprofit in California, I’ve seen first-hand through the work of our dedicated staff how powerful partnerships can help students overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles. At the same time, I’ve witnessed how a single setback can often derail what seemed to be a incredible opportunity for a promising student.

One of the more unique aspects of our work is our innovative Fellowship Program, which employs recent first-generation college graduates from low-income backgrounds. Starting in our partner high schools and continuing through college, 10,000 Degrees Fellows pair up with our trained college advisors to assist students and coordinate with school and community partners to help navigate the many in- and out-of-school success factors.

Through this powerful near-peer dynamic, students access deep content expertise and receive individualized personal support from first-generation college graduates from their respective communities who, in turn, gain valuable career and leadership experience themselves.

Collaboration is Key to Positive Outcomes

10,000 Degrees currently supports students in 21 area high schools, 11 community colleges, and over 50 four-year colleges and universities in California and beyond — our current college cohort includes more than 1,600 students.

None of this would be possible without the active participation of college and community partners. In fact, 10,000 Degrees routinely cultivates local and regional partnerships to ensure students are supported by a network of dedicated individuals and institutions, including College Promise organizations, such as Richmond Promise in Richmond, CA, through which 10,000 Degrees Fellows provide college success support for students attending Contra Costa Community College.

Our partnership with Richmond Promise is more than an isolated local support collaboration. In fact, in 2016, in response to the growing population of community college students throughout California, 10,000 Degrees launched our Community College Success Initiative which aims to more than double the six-year baccalaureate attainment rate for students who start at community college.

A Powerful Community Amplifier Effect

Based on our current model, 10,000 Degrees Fellows typically work with a caseload of 125 students. Our data collection indicates, through our community outreach efforts, 10,000 Degrees Fellows deliver an amplifier effect of ten — for each student served, 10,000 Degrees Fellows inform and inspire ten additional students.

With a specific focus on community building and empowering underserved students, 10,000 Degrees Fellows help actualize personal and professional dreams and, in doing so, become powerful catalysts in transforming communities from the inside out. What’s more, in conjunction with community, corporate and institutional philanthropy, the 10,000 Degrees Fellowship program is a cyclical model that reinvests both literally and figuratively in the amazing students it supports.

By employing college graduates from low-income backgrounds to serve the next generation of students from similar backgrounds, 10,000 Degrees Fellows collectively support a pipeline of new talent with the unique lived experiences and solid academic backgrounds we need, now more than ever, to lead us into a brighter, more inclusive future.

At 10,000 Degrees we support the College Promise movement, the drive for communities and states to make the first two years of community college as universal and free as high school has been for a century. But we know that a College Promise will only enjoy success as long as students complete their chosen course of study.

That’s why we work hard through our partnership with Richmond Promise to make sure that students override the barriers to education above and beyond tuition and fees. We enjoy being part of a movement to ensure that all hardworking students get access to the higher education they need and that they have the support they need every step of their educational journey.

Across the country, there are now more than 200 College Promise programs underway in 44 states. Find out how to start building a College Promise program in your community – collegepromise.org/start.

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