Bottom Line: College success for all low-income students

This blog is part of a series that highlights the work of our partners.You can find the whole series here.

How can we begin to close the college graduation gap for low-income, first-generation students? According to Bottom Line, by age 24, only nine percent of low-income students have earned a college degree, while the rate is 77 percent for students from the top income quartile. Too often, low-income students face great challenges that stand in the way of graduation day.

Bottom Line, founded in Boston and operating in New York, Chicago, and Worcester, MA is working to level the playing field for low-income students through an innovative two-part program designed to support students through any challenges they face on the road to and through college. Students begin to receive support in high school, and it doesn’t end until college graduation day.

Holistic support: The model

Bottom Line’s mentorship model begins early in the college application process – usually during students’ junior year of high school. As part of the College Access program, students begin by meeting with counselors at local Bottom Line offices in Boston, Chicago, New York City or Worcester and sharing their interests, aspirations, academic histories, and family circumstances. Then, once students commit to the program, counselors help them navigate every step of the college application process: college lists, essays, applications, financial aid, and reviewing acceptance and financial aid award letters to make a smart college choice.

The second part of the program – College Success – begins the summer before students start school if they’re attending one of Bottom Line’s target colleges. Through summer transitional programming, students develop skills that ensure they enroll, register and show up on campus ready to succeed. Once the fall semester begins, students receive Bottom Line support in four main areas, which Bottom Line calls the DEAL:

  • Degree – Bottom Line helps students select a suitable major, monitor their academic progress, develop study strategies, and connect with on-campus resources. They are there to ensure students remain on track to earn a degree.
  • Employability – Counselors work with students to secure internships and part-time jobs, create and update their resumes, and build a unique “brand” that will empower them to leave college employable.
  • Aid – Bottom Line counselors not only help students identify and renew financial-aid annually, but also help year-round to resolve problems with tuition bills, determine how to pay balances, and encourage decisions that will allow students to avoid excessive debt.
  • Life – Lastly, Bottom Line offers students a role model and a mentor.  They are there to offer consistent support through unexpected obstacles such as illness, pregnancy, debt, bereavement, academic probation, or transferring to another college.

Bottom Line recognizes that low-income students need more than money to be successful in college. They need steady mentorship from an experienced and caring adult from day one of college applications until they walk across the stage on graduation day.

Creating meaningful partnerships: Success Direct

While most of Bottom Line’s students begin the programming in high school, Bottom Line has created a new pathway for students to receive support called “Success Direct”. This is an innovation designed to invite students who did not work with Bottom Line in high school into their Success program, as long as they are already accepted to a “target school”, are from one of their metropolitan communities, and fit their low-income, first generation requirements.

Through the Success Direct Program innovation, Bottom Line is able to work collaboratively within each community, partner with a smaller organizations who cannot on their own support students through college at numerous colleges across each state, and ultimately, serve a greater number of students to succeed and earn a degree.

The impact

Bottom Line currently serves over 5,000 students across its four regions, and their innovative relationship-based model is producing impressive results:

  • Since inception, 98 percent of Bottom Line high school seniors have been accepted to college.
  • Ninety-six percent of College Access students enroll in college the fall following high school graduation.
  • Ninety-six percent of first year students re-enrolled and persisted for a second semester of college and 91 percent of Bottom Line second year students re-enrolled and persisted for a forth semester of college.
  • Overall, 78 percent of all Bottom Line Success students have graduated from college in six years, (more than double the national average for low-income students); and 83 percent of the most recent classes of students graduated college at the rates of 84 percent and 83 percent, respectively.

Bottom Line recognizes that low-income students need more than money to be successful in college. They need steady mentorship from an experienced and caring adult from day one of college applications until they walk across the stage on graduation day. They have purposefully created effective programs to ensure that at-risk students receive this support and are prepared to get in and graduate from college, and go far in life.

Other blogs in this series:

Education Cities: Redefining what’s possible in education

Marathon Kids: Scaling nationally so more kids can go the distance

LEAD Public Schools: Chartering restart work in Music City

Mission Capital: A new approach to community challenges

Foundation Communities: Supporting families for a better Central Texas

LifeWorks: Empowering Central Texas youth for success

uAspire: Helping students get to college in Boston and beyond

Summer Search: A unique approach to college completion

College Forward: Impacting even more low-income college students