Media Highlights

Changing the Odds for Community College Students

by Paige Ponder   •  

When I read about the work of Opportunity Nation in the Huffington Post, I saw an ally and a strong and powerful voice in both the fight against poverty and the development of innovative educational and workforce policies to propel America forward.  I knew One Million Degrees had to get involved. 

One Million Degrees (OMD) is a student support organization which provides academic, professional, personal, and financial assistance to low-income, highly motivated, Chicago-area community college students.  In the US, community college students represent almost half of all students enrolled in an undergraduate program, while middle-skill occupations – occupations requiring degrees and certificates attained at community college – make up the largest part of America’s and Illinois’ labor market.  Unfortunately, many middle-skills jobs remained unfilled because most community college students never graduate. 

Barriers to college completion are ever-present in our work. One Million Degrees students are low-income and the vast majority are first-generation college-goers. The average age of our students is 26, most work while enrolled in community college full-time, and many are single mothers or support other family members. Nine out of ten OMD Scholars require remediation in at least one subject area.

OMD is changing the odds for community college students. We provide our scholars with intrusive academic supports, including ongoing advising and weekly tutoring.  We provide each scholar with financial supports to help them defray the cost of college and associated expenses.  We also offer our scholars professional development and life-skills training, including:

  •  career readiness activities with some of Chicago’s top corporations;
  • personal financial planning sessions in partnership with Heartland Alliance;
  • stress and time-management training;
  • leadership development and civic engagement training;
  • professional communications workshops; 
  • exciting experiential events so that our scholars can put what they learn into practice;
  •  a supportive network of cheerleaders, including our volunteer coaches who meet with scholars at least once a month to help them map out their plans for their academic and professional futures; and
  • our dedicated and caring staff who work with each scholar to ensure that they are accessing the resources they need to succeed and thrive.  

Our success is unequivocal.  Our scholars graduate at a rate of 70 percent in three years, earning their associate’s degrees and entering four-year colleges and universities and the workforce in high-demand fields.  We are now in the nascent stages of expanding our program beyond the Chicago-land area and we feel very fortunate to be part of the Opportunity Nation Coalition, which can provide us with valuable insight and new potential partnerships as we work to serve many more community college students and help them chart their paths to social and economic mobility.


Paige Ponder

CEO, One Million Degrees 

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