Income & Employment / 2013

STRIVERS.LA: Apps to help LA City College students succeed at work and school

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Maker Challenge by Strivers.LA via New Economy Campaigns

Los Angeles in 2050 will need an educated workforce prepared for the job market of tomorrow. In order to increase the employability and earning potential of our city, we need to help working college students succeed in class and raise graduation rates. STRIVERS.LA will give students tools to balance work and school hours that too often overlap, by involving employers in supporting their employees’ academic success. STRIVERS.LA is a web- and mobile-based platform that will improve outcomes on both educational and employment indicators, helping to build a stronger Los Angeles through an educated workforce. STRIVERS.LA is partnering with the Los Angeles City College Foundation (LACCF) to bring innovative technology to low-income working students in Los Angeles, creating a more robust economy and a better-employed population.The Los Angeles Community College District (LACCD) serves more than 250,000 students annually, and Los Angeles City College (LACC) serves 18,000 of them. Many of these largely low-income students struggle to balance employment and school. Nationally, 74% of students worked during the academic year, and 15 % are working full-time. Juggling work and school schedules leads to skipped classes, missed sleep, and even no-show exams. Research shows that every extra hour a student works above 10 hours/week lowers GPA by a measurable amount. Sixty percent of community college students work more than 20 hours per week and 25% work more than 35 hours per week. In California, fewer than 28% of students who begin a two-year college program complete a degree within six years; for those studying part time, this percentage falls to less than 12%, in both cases significantly below the national average. Los Angeles must improve its college completion rates in order to reach its economic potential.

Students often face calendar conflicts between work and school. Employers use sophisticated software to chop up the day and schedule shifts to meet business needs, not employees' academic goals. Employers may want to support their employees’ educational commitments, but lack the tools to do so. STRIVERS.LA is a way to solve the problem using digital tools so students can request schedule adjustments to protect their lecture, study and exam times, while providing a platform that brings benefits for employers.

Many students lack the experience and personal savvy to negotiate work requirements. STRIVERS.LA provides student employees a comfortable digital tool - just formal enough to communicate class, exam, and homework routines effectively. Using a simple point and click interface, students enter their schedule information on the STRIVERS.LA website. They can then share the information with an employer via print, email, or link to their schedule at STRIVERS.LA.

STRIVERS.LA will move students toward earning “family supportive wages” by increasing their likelihood of maintaining a balance between work and school, facilitating completing their education, and thereby preparing them for middle-class employment and higher-wage jobs. Current LACC students are primarily low-income, with 70% receiving tuition waivers. STRIVERS.LA will affect multiple employment-related indicators when brought to scale throughout the region, helping students move from their current, part-time, low wage work into readiness for jobs that will help them sustain and grow their families. Preparing people for well-paying jobs in technology, entertainment, tourism, and healthcare is an essential part of reducing income inequality.

When they use the STRIVERS tool to communicate class, exam, and homework routines, students also agree to achieve, comply with basic standards of employee responsibility and to work hard in return for employer support. Students can choose to upload grades for employers to follow, and earn incentives for academic and work performance. We will both secure incentive donations from local businesses, as well as fund some targeted incentives through a partnership with the LACCF partnership.

When employers sign on to support employees, they receive dividends in positive ratings, employee loyalty and retention, and social media kudos. We will work closely with employers located in proximity to LACC that employ large numbers of students, getting detailed input from store managers about the challenges and benefits of supporting their student workers.

By participating in STRIVERS.LA, both students and their managers can earn simple incentives for focusing needed attention on how to better balance work and school: gas cards, bus passes, textbook credits, as well as concert or movie tickets, coffee vouchers, and mormore. Employers support students’ educational goals, and in return, students agree to do the right thing. STRIVERS.LA: Everybody wins.

What are some of your organization’s most important achievements to date?

STRIVERS.LA is a new organization that will incorporate as a California B Corporation, a new incorporation option designed for businesses with a social mission at their core. Co-founders are Angel Dean Lopez and Catherine Geanuracos. Catherine Geanuracos is the founder of New Economy Campaigns; she leverages technology and media to create global movements that respond to the most urgent social, environmental and political issues of our time. Angel Dean Lopez is a writer with extensive credentials in television and digital content production. In addition to his entertainment work, he’s taught screenwriting at USC, UCLA, and Cal State Fullerton; his experiences teaching low-income students were the inspiration for STRIVERS.LA.

STRIVERS.LA is being incubated by New Economy Campaigns, a digital strategy consultancy that has created national and global programs to leverage technology for social impact. Creating accessible ways to engage with causes that matter is the cornerstone of New Economy Campaigns’ work. Whether the entry point is through a brand marketing initiative, a political campaign, or an open streets event, we offer pathways for consumers, constituents, and creators to have measurable and scalable impact. We’re rigorous in our assessment and evaluation, and only work on projects we believe can fulfill both marketing and cause-related objectives. The significant movements we’ve been part of building, including, Live Earth, and CicLAvia, connect masses of people through simple, fun actions and transform our cultural understanding. Recent successes include the creation and funding of “Spin the Vote,” the first-ever national voter registration initiative for the dance music community, and the creation of the Paul Frank Art Supplies Round-Up, which generated close to $100K in cash and in-kind donations to support children’s art programming nationally.

Our partner, the Los Angeles City College Foundation, has had several recent programmatic achievements in supporting low-income students. One example is the Foundation's support of recent U.S. combat veterans. According to the latest statistics collected by the College, approximately 600 current students have identified themselves as veterans--and 370 of those students receive support from the Veterans Success Institute on the LACC campus.

LACC has great success moving students into well-paid careers. Each of the Allied Health Programs (Nursing, Dental Technology, Radiologic Technology) boasts of impressive student test results, job placements and successful alumni. However, the path to success for many of these students is filled with financial hardship, personal sacrifice—and even homelessness. In addition, these programs are more expensive to complete because they require additional tuition, expensive textbooks and supplies. STRIVERS.LA will work with LACCF to target recruitment of students involved in each of these successful LACC programs.

Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.

STRIVERS.LA will partner with Los Angeles City College Foundation. LACCF is a 501(c)(3) corporation established in 1968 to increase the educational opportunities for students of LACC. LACCF will ensure access to LACC students during product development, piloting, and implementation phases, as well as assist with program evaluation.

In addition to our collaboration with LACCF, we are gathering partners to provide incentives to participating students and employers. Current partners include Saban Brands/Paul Frank Industries (providing youth-focused clothing and licensed products) and Electronic Music Alliance (providing concert tickets). We anticipate recruiting additional media, promotional, and incentive partners.

Please explain how you will evaluate your project. How will you measure success?

Through collaboration with our participating students, we will evaluate whether they report improvement on the following indicators:

• Class attendance

• Academic performance

• Job retention

• Graduation

• Income levels

Comparing the reports from participating students to those of the general student population will provide very clear overall metrics of success, as well as near-real time snapshots of how our participants are doing. In addition to these performance metrics, we'll survey students and employers using our technology to determine which components are most helpful.

Our long-term success will be measured by the overall number of students and employers registering for and using the technology, and how well STRIVERS.LA retains and serves its users. We wlll evaluate whether our technology is being adopted by students outside our original population at LACC, and see whether students across the region begin using it. Over time, we hope to be able to show improvements in graduation rates and employability for low-income students in the LA region.

In addition, we hope that we can change the cultural norms for employers about their responsibility to support their student workers, communicating that the benefits of an educated workforce accrue to all of us.

How will your project benefit Los Angeles?

The goals of STRIVERS.LA are to increase graduation rates, involve employers in their employees’ success, and help grow an educated, responsible workforce for the city of Los Angeles. This project will focus the new technology of STRIVERS.LA on students in Los Angeles, and by partnering with LACC we will engage some of the most ambitious, but also some of the lowest-income students in the LACCD. Serving residents of Los Angeles' Metro urban cluster, LACC's student population is among the most diverse in the nation. Of the College’s more than 18,000 students, 54% are immigrants to the United States and 50% are first-generation college students. Current LACC students are low-income, with 70% receiving a Board of Governors waiver for tuition and 53% receiving some form of financial aid. A number of students are even homeless and hungry. Through our partnership with LACCF, we will be able to engage directly with this population, helping to bolster the employment that most students use to support their educational goals and improving their likelihood of completing an associate’s degree or transferring to a four-year school. By increasing graduation rates and educational achievement, STRIVERS.LA will increase the number of students who go on to earn “family supportive wages," improving the overall economic health of Los Angeles.

In addition, this will be the first public-private technology partnership initiative for LACCF, beginning opportunities for innovation partnerships focused on the advancement and success of LA’s college students.

Using LACC's student population as proof of concept, we hope to scale our efforts to reach all campuses in the LACCD and eventually have a presence in the Cal State and UC systems as well, improving key indicators for students and graduates throughout the Los Angeles region.

What would success look like in the year 2050 regarding your indicator?

In 2050, if our initiative is successful, our community college system will have graduated tens of thousands more better-prepared, employed and employable students, ready to work in growth industries that will power the LA economy for the subsequent 50 years; healthcare, technology, hospitality and tourism. We’ll demonstrate success by increasing the percentage of low-income working students who successfully complete college; we’ll improve profitability for businesses by reducing personnel and retraining costs, encouraging increased hiring and local investment. Most importantly, we’ll have created deep relationships between our community college system and local employers, developing a collaborative understanding of how supporting student workers will result in an improved economic environment for the entire community. We’ll create new norms for employers about how to interact with working students, and new expectations for students about how best to balance work and school. Success will mean lower income inequality, more families earning wages that support their needs, and a more flexible, better-educated workforce able to adapt to changing economic conditions.