uAspire: Helping students get to college in Boston and beyond

For first-generation students, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to college success. From mentorship to financial aid, there are a multitude of supports that contribute to the success of students getting to – and through – college.

By using a sustainable model, Boston-based uAspire is working to ensure students have the support and knowledge they need to overcome financial barriers and succeed in college. How are they doing this? In addition to directly serving students in their city sites through college preparation workshops, uAspire partners with high schools, community organizations, higher education institutions, and individual practitioners to provide college affordability advice to young people and their families. uAspire ensures that students across the country have access to the financial aid knowledge and best practices that the organization has honed over three decades of in-classroom experience.

The model

At the rate college application and financial aid information and requirements are changing, far too many school counselors find themselves unable to answer some imperative questions. Which schools are the most affordable for my students? How do students apply for and understand their financial aid packages?  When low-income, first-generation students rely on teachers and counselors for this information, it is essential those advisers have the most up-to-date knowledge to share with their students.

This is especially important because when high-need students are left with incomplete information about college affordability, they begin to believe college isn’t an option for them. Over the past 10 years, as many as two million academically-prepared students across the nation did not attend college because they believed they could not afford it.[i]

uAspire knows that it’s not enough to help one school at a time, one student at a time.

How then does uAspire tackle this challenge? In addition to their traditional service work, uAspire created a new impact model where school districts and organizations could select affordability training offerings based on their own specific needs.  After studying the early response to their pilot of this programming, uAspire’s Training Partnerships model was born. It features three program options that meet the needs of a diverse set of organizations:

  • High Impact Partnership – This is the most comprehensive option for school districts and organizations. This year-long partnership with uAspire helps organizations expand expertise in programming and management of college affordability practices through a fully customized set of training opportunities.
  • Standard – This mix of webinars and in-person trainings is for organizations looking to deep dive on a specific topic in college affordability.
  • Flex – The flex option provides staff at partner organizations with quick access to existing uAspire college affordability webinars on specific topics.

This revised offering is more flexible for partners while providing a greater level of financial security for uAspire. Since these are fee-for-service trainings, uAspire has developed another revenue source beyond their fundraising efforts.  With this extra income stream, they have moved closer to becoming a self-sustaining organization.

Gaining momentum

uAspire is beginning to close the college achievement gap by ensuring students have the support they need to make smart and educated choices about financing college which in turn leads to higher enrollment and persistence. And the numbers are encouraging:

  • Across the organization’s national network, 65 percent of uAspire’s advisees enroll at a postsecondary institution immediately after high school graduation – compared to the national average of just 53 percent of low-income students enrolling within 18 months.
  • These students are also showing greater persistence year-to-year; 79 percent of uAspire advisees re-enroll for their second year of college, compared to a 69 percent national average across all income levels.

uAspire has already expanded beyond Boston to serve five additional cities in Massachusetts – Cambridge, Fall River, Lawrence, Somerville and Springfield – as well as three cities in the San Francisco Bay Area. Additionally, uAspire is virtually supporting students via text message in 15 states across the country and reaching many other U.S. locations in 26 states via the Training Partnerships model. Through their suite of innovative impact models, they annually impact the lives of more than 125,000 students nationwide.

Sustainability at its core

uAspire knows that it’s not enough to help one school at a time, one student at a time.  The problem is too big and pervasive to attack at such a small scale.  And they know that the solution has to stick.  By extending their knowledge and expertise through partnerships with student serving organizations across the country, they are instilling useful and sustainable skills in advisers that will help countless students over time. Giving the proper tools and resources to the people on the frontlines means that students – year after year – will reap the benefits.  And those benefits include many more low-income, first-generation students with a college degree in hand.