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Mission and History
The mission of Ascending Lights iGraduate is to increase the community college graduation and transfer rates of economically disadvantaged youth and adults living in Los Angeles County.
iGraduate is a non-sectarian outreach program of the Ascending Lights Leadership Network (www.ascendinglights.org). For the past twenty years the Network has provided community college scholarships and mentoring benefits for more than 100 students recruited from local churches. Over 80 % of Network scholarship recipients have successfully completed community college. The vast majority have gone on to graduate from four-year universities.
The strength of the Network is its refined mentoring system that includes an academic planning tool that is called the Road Map to Success. This tool streamlines a student’s community college path toward a specific career goal. Rather than a student spending an average of 6 years or more in order to obtain their degree or certificate, Network students generally obtain their degrees or certificates in a little less than four years. And most of our students successfully balance their community college careers with part time employment.
For many disadvantaged individuals, attending a local community college is the first step to climbing the ladder of economic self-sufficiency. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, with a community college degree, a person’s chances of employment increase by nearly 50%. Average annual income for individuals possessing an Associate Degree is 20% higher than those having only a high school diploma. Over 70% of students enrolled in California public colleges are attending community colleges. Half of the students who graduated from California State universities began their education at community colleges.
Unfortunately, for many who live in the low-income urban areas of Los Angeles, the dream of stepping onto the ladder of economic success is virtually impossible. Urban public schools in California are notorious for their failure to prepare students for success in higher education. Therefore, for many urban high school graduates, community college represents their last-best opportunity to prepare themselves for jobs of the future and for continued university studies.
In recent years, the California has witnessed an increased number of underserved community college students who either spend too much time in school, or become so discouraged, that they drop out without earning a degree. The California Institute for Higher Education and Policy recently reported that only 22% of Latino students and 26% of African American students earned any sort of degree or certificate or transferred after six years. In general, seventy percent of community college students seeking degrees did not attain them or transfer within six years. After six years 85% of those remaining eventually dropped out.
The reasons for students’ failure to complete their community college studies are multi-layered. One factor points to public high schools not adequately preparing students for college level studies, especially in the low-income urban setting. Eighty five percent of students entering community college need remedial English courses. Seventy five percent need remedial math instruction.
Another factor is that students are often unaware of available financial aid, learning assistance resources, and other readily available support services that would make the difference between graduating and dropping out.
Our experience with Network scholarship recipients is that the missing ingredient is careful and ongoing counseling. According to many community college officials adequate counseling is critical for community college students from poor urban settings. These individuals typically lack the college-savvy, family support, personal experience, and knowledge to bring all the available resources together and utilize them in a way that leads to graduation. So, often, a student is unaware of how to navigate through catalogs, academic plans, and graduation requirements. They lack knowledge of the resources that they can access to study better and strengthen their grades. Lacking proper guidance many fail to take advantage of available financial aid and other student assistance resources.
Unfortunately, many sources report that it is not feasible to provide a sufficient number of paid college counselors to meet the need. At the average community college there is one counselor for approximately 4,000 students. One Los Angeles area community college alone had to turn away 2,500 students who sought counseling in a six month period.
According to the director of one community counseling department, a viable solution is to “use paraprofessionals (A.A. and B.A. levels) to do much more of the routine and bureaucratic advising, leaving the Master’s Degree level counselors available for the more critical services that they are trained to provide.” (The Campaign for College Opportunity). The value of having a knowledgeable individual available to help counsel and direct a person in their life’s path has proven indispensable in all aspects of life. Obtaining a community college degree or certificate is certainly no different. The current community college system clearly requires significant additional resources to achieve acceptable persistence and graduation rates.
Given these systemic challenges, the question, then, is how to reach out to a larger number of students who struggle with succeeding in their college careers. Ascending Lights iGraduate represents a powerful solution.
The intent of iGraduate is to train mentors from community organizations to effectively and efficiently guide students through their community college careers. This is accomplished through a combination of mentor training seminars and follow up services.
The iGraduate Mentor Training Seminars are conducted at a local community center or church. Participants possess either associate or bachelor’s degrees. Many participants work or volunteer in organized youth programs targeting disadvantaged populations. Others are Ascending Lights Leadership network graduates.
Ascending Lights Leadership Network mentors serve as trainers and coaches. Facilities are set up with individual laptops for participants to use along with printers and internet access. Participants learn through the use of case studies. Each receives a resource and materials handbook that can be used to mentor students in the future.
The seminars train participants in how to assist students with
•Understanding the relationship between the community college and long term career and income success.
•Applying for admission to community college
•Identifying potential careers that match their skills and interests
•Preparing an academic plan beginning with the first semester in college and ending with graduation or transfer (Roadmap to Success)
•Learning how to access all available student services.
•Assisting a student in applying for financial aid.
•Acquiring effective study and time management skills
Participants are also instructed in the use of the highly effective mentoring tools and procedures that the Ascending Lights Leadership Network has refined over the last 20 years
Participants, and the organizations that they represent, are provided with full post-training follow up and support by iGraduate staff. This includes Community College Information Nights for parents and their college-aged children. At these events the benefits of community college are explained. Those interested can request mentoring and sign up for the specialalized services offered at a Community College Success Night. During these events our staff mentors return to assist those who signed up with applying to community college, obtaning financial aid, discerning an appropriate career, and preparation of a Road Map to Success academic plan. From that point on they are mentored by those who have previously attended an iGraduate Mentor Training Seminar.
Trained mentors can also utilize a help line to talk to an Ascending Lights trainer and/or access support through this web site.
iGraduate is intended to train any individual who possesses a college degree and has a sincere desire to help disadvantaged individuals to succeed in college and career.
Because the state community college system uses the same curriculum, the Road Map to Success academic planning tool can be adapted to students attending any California community college. It is clear that, as more volunteer mentors are trained, the greater the number of community college students will be able to benefit from the iGraduate Road Map to Success mentoring system. And just as the Network used the Roadmap and mentoring system to achieve a better than 70% graduation rate, so also will students mentored by trained iGraduate volunteers be able to achieve similar successes. And of course, our society, too, reaps the fruits of a better educated population. The American Dream then becomes possible and obtainable for more people.
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