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Community College and Non-Profit Partner to Close the Opportunity Gap for New York Youth

by Dr. Anne Kress and Augustin Melendez   •  

As leaders of a community college and a nonprofit dedicated to helping struggling students stay in high school and continue their education, we know how critical it is to increase both the U.S. high school graduation rate and the number of Americans who complete some form of post-secondary education. We believe we must increase public/private partnerships to change the current model that lets too many students slip through the cracks. As a country, we urgently need better results.

That’s why we want to share the success of our partnership in a corner of Upstate New York. The collaboration between Monroe Community College and Hillside Work-Scholarship Connection is moving the needle on both high school and college success.  And, our partnership is poised to do even more.

Monroe Community College (MCC), located in Rochester, New York, serves approximately 35,000 credit and non-credit students annually, many of whom come from high-poverty households. Students from the Rochester city schools graduate at a very low rate (below 50%), and those who do graduate find themselves largely unprepared for college or career.  In recent tests, only five percent of city school graduates meet state standards for college-readiness.  Recognizing these challenges, Monroe Community College looked for a partner that could help more students capitalize on the opportunities held out by success in higher education.

The Hillside Work-Scholarship Connection Program (HWSC) was this partner. Hillside helps at-risk students stay in high school and earn their diploma, while providing invaluable part-time work experience and job skills to help prepare them for life after graduation. Full-time, professional youth advocates provide long-term mentoring and connect students to a web of individualized support.

At Monroe Community College, Hillside provided case managers called “Navigators.”  Each Navigator served 40 students transitioning from high school to college.  The Navigator provided critical wrap-around services and supports for the students. These included social/life skills (from personal budgeting to finding housing to finding support for dealing with life-altering situations), advising and registration processes, academic supports, financial aid navigation and employment support.  The Navigator at MCC also reaches back to Hillside’s youth advocates in the high schools, sharing valuable information about community college processes so that students are prepared for the college transition. 

The result of this public/private partnership in service of disadvantaged students has been remarkable.  Persistence rates among these students has averaged 88%, well above the rates for MCC’s at-risk student population overall.  Each of these students is on a path to achievement, to opportunity.  In many of their families, they were the first to graduate high school, and in a few semesters, they will be the first to graduate college.

Monroe Community College and Hillside Work-Scholarship Connection share a mission of improving access to opportunity through success in education.  Since this initial effort, the two agencies have brought together an unprecedented group of education, business and labor leaders to create mobile learning labs designed to promote and recruit for high demand career pathways in health care, advanced manufacturing and skilled trades.  They partnered on immersive summer programs to introduce at-risk youth to technical education programs, and on a proposal to provide intensive access to training programs to one of Rochester’s highest poverty neighborhoods.  In each case, the goal is a simple yet profound one: to close the opportunity gap for Rochester’s youth.  Student by student, it’s working.

Anne Kress is the President of Monroe Community College. Augustin Melendez is the President of the Hillside Work-Scholarship Connection. 

Monroe Community College is a comprehensive two-year college in Rochester, New York.  Part of the State University of New York system and nationally recognized for institutional excellence and innovation.

Hillside Work-Scholarship Connection Program helps at-risk secondary school students stay in school and earn their high school diploma, while providing part-time work experience and job skills to help prepare them for life after graduation. HW-SC empowers students with the skills and confidence they need to realize their dreams of success at school, at home and on the job.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons


Dr. Anne Kress and Augustin Melendez

President, Hillside Work-Scholarship Connection

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