On College Success: Four questions with Greg Johnson, Bottom Line

This is a blog series focused on how the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation approaches college success work. You will hear from our partners who work each day to help students improve academically, complete rigorous curricula, and cross financial hurdles. We recently spoke with Greg Johnson, COO and interim CEO at Bottom Line, about the organization’s mission to help high school seniors get into college and support them through to graduation. You can read the whole series here.

What drives your passion for education?

The opportunity to become educated was something that was important to me and my family from the time I was very young. Applying to and choosing a college was a very memorable experience and the ability to learn and grow while at college transformed my world.  Very soon after graduating I remained connected to the higher education space – first at an organization called the Princeton Review which was centered around helping students achieve their higher education goals, and then at Bottom Line.  After just a short time at Bottom Line, it became obvious to me that my role in the world was to help others gain access to the same higher education opportunities that had come readily to me.  

Tell us about your organization, Bottom Line.

Bottom Line was founded in 1997 as a small program supporting 25 high school seniors in Boston. Our organization has grown dramatically over the last 20 years and now serves nearly 7,000 students across Massachusetts, New York, and Chicago with the shared mission of ensuring our students get into college, graduate, and go far in life.

Bottom Line serves students from college application to college graduation with a highly structured and one-on-one approach.  Bottom Line’s advisors help students get into college through our Access program, and graduate from college and go far in life with the skills and resources to begin their career through our Success program. In our College Access program, our advisors work closely with high school seniors to identify suitable colleges based on fit with their interests, match with their academic ability, and affordability. Advisors then work with students to complete compelling applications and apply for financial aid. Together, students and advisors make decisions that will impact each student’s future in a positive and informed way.

Our Success program, which begins the summer before a student starts college, is focused on graduation and career readiness. Success program advisors provide high-touch, on-campus advising so that our students can overcome any challenges in accumulating proper course credits, accessing on-campus resources, and maintaining sufficient financial aid.  Full-time, trained, and specialized advisors leverage our DEAL model which addresses the four key areas that are most likely to lead to college success: Degree, Employability, Affordability, and Life. Through key performance indicators related to each DEAL area, we continuously evaluate each student throughout the school year. Though highly structured, our model is designed to be tailored to the specific challenges, unique talents, and individual strengths of each student.

What’s your vision for education over the next 10 years?

The business of higher education is going to have to change over the next ten years.  The small population of elite universities may continue to thrive, however, there is likely to be a consolidation of some of the lesser competitive private colleges and universities as the ability to pay becomes even more challenging for a large section of the population.  Affordable public education systems will increasingly become a critical piece of the system. Finally, measuring career outcomes will become the most important measuring stick of college success.

What’s your message to others working in the college completion space?

Just as the focus on college completion was the natural evolution of a decades long focus on college access support systems, the space is going to evolve again.  Increasingly post-secondary outcomes will be the most important statistic of colleges and universities.  As the expense of higher education continues to rise, the natural focus on what the money is buying will only intensify.  Colleges and organizations that are able to navigate this changing world are likely to be relied upon to lead.