learn / 2014

Project: SCHOLARS - empowering college and college bound students of all ages to succeed

Project: SCHOLARS - empowering college and college bound students of all ages to succeed

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Maker Challenge by Los Angeles County Community Development Foundation

creating pathways to and through higher education with financial and emotional support


Please describe yourself.

Collaboration (partners are signed up and ready to hit the ground running!)

In one sentence, please describe your idea or project.

creating pathways to and through higher education with financial and emotional support

Does your project impact Los Angeles County?

Yes (benefits a population of LA County)

Which area(s) of LA does your project benefit?

  • Central LA
  • East LA
  • South LA
  • San Gabriel Valley
  • South Bay
  • Westside
  • Long Beach

What is your idea/project in more detail?

Project: SCHOLARS is a 2014 board-approved comprehensive set of programs and services that aims to create pathways to and through higher education for low-income housing residents of all ages. This goal is met by focusing on four main objectives: 1) creating a college going and career exploring culture; 2) increasing college access; 3) strengthening college retention, persistence, and graduation rates; and 4) preparing students for their chosen career field. This proposal is specifically for our interventions surrounding Objective #3 (college retention, persistence, and graduation) and include: college to career mentorship, college shower, and HAR Scholarships.

What will you do to implement this idea/project?

In order to increase college graduation rates of low-income students living in Section 8 and Public Housing, the CDF will continue operating its longstanding HAR Scholarship program. This program has been in operation for 17 years and awards college and vocational training program students with scholarships up to $1,000. By 2019, the CDF plans to increase scholarship size to up to $2,500. Scholarship awards are disbursed to students throughout the school year based on meeting academic milestones.

Additionally, the CDF will continue to implement and expand the College to Career Mentorship program. This program was launched in 2014 and matches college students of all ages with a mentor that is currently working in their field of interest. The one-to-one relationship is meant to give students an opportunity to learn firsthand about their career field, build their network, and receive strategic career planning advice in a supportive environment. Most mentors are first-generation college graduates that are eager to share their experiences with students. Each mentor pair is expected to meet at least 4 times per year, including one mandatory job visit.

Beyond these two currently operated programs, the CDF will take the baby shower model and start hosting College Showers. These events will celebrate the milestone of attending college and prepare students with financial and emotional support needed. Not only will students receive needed school supplies such as USB flash drives and extra-long bed sheets (for those living in dorms), but also with advice from college graduates. Similar to baby shower, the College Shower will be family oriented and provide a launching pad for student achievement and a rare opportunity to celebrate this important milestone.

To fully implement these three components, the CDF will hire an Outreach Coordinator responsible for recruiting, outreaching, and creating a community for students and mentors. In total, the Coordinator will have a case load of approximately 250 people include students, parents, and mentors.

How will your idea/project help make LA the best place to LEARN today? In 2050?

Project: SCHOLARS will make Los Angeles the best place to learn today by creating an equitable learning environment that all students regardless of income and background can expect to succeed. WIth both financial and emotional support, students will be engaged and posed for success. Additionally, Project: SCHOLARS will make Los Angeles the best place to learn in 2050 by removing the old stigma of Housing Projects being a place for drugs, crime, violence, and fraud. Rather those living in poverty will have the same chance and expectation to succeed academically and in their career as their higher income counterparts because they will have the positive role models as proof. If the least among us, those that have the greatest challenges, can succeed then all of Los Angeles can succeed!

Whom will your project benefit?

CDF and Project: SCHOLARS benefit a specific sub-population of the Los Angeles Community: low-income housing residents, that is Section 8 and Public Housing residents. In Los Angeles County there are over 100,000 families enrolled in one of these two housing programs. This target population is made up of some of our region’s most disadvantaged youth and families that struggle from more than poverty. The vast majority of low-income residents are economically unstable and vulnerable and have also dealt with extreme adversity such as being formerly homeless, transition age youth (TAY) leaving the foster care system, victims of domestic or sexual violence, physically or mentally disabled, among other challenges. A particularly unique aspect of the CDF’s target population is that there are no age limits, and in fact, the CDF encourages adults to return to higher education. The CDF believes that while it is important to support youth transitioning from high school to college, supporting adults (especially adults with children) can be challenging but is also important to ending generational poverty. Parents returning back to school have the opportunity to not only improve their lives but also the lives of their children. Without Project: SCHOLARS, our clients are at-risk of being stuck in the vicious cycle of generational poverty.

Although direct services are provided to low-income housing residents, the ripple effects of Project: SCHOLARS goes well beyond the individual participant. While the students receive the direct benefit of financial and emotional support as they persist through college, their family and the greater community gains a new positive role for educational excellence, perseverance, and resiliency as well.

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

The CDF will work with the Housing Authority of the County of Los Angeles (HACoLA) to implement Project: SCHOLARS. This partnership is confirmed and longstanding. The benefits of working with HACoLA is the ability to work directly with site staff to access residents that are college-bound or current college students. HACoLA offers their residents case management, afterschool programming, and clinical psychological services. The relationships that their staff build through these and other programs is a compliment to CDF’s programming.

How will your project impact the LA2050 “Learn” metrics?

  • Percentage of community college students completing a certificate, degree, or transfer-related program in six years
  • College matriculation rates

Please elaborate on how your project will impact the above metrics.

By ensuring students graduate.

Please explain how you will evaluate your project.

The CDF monitors Project: SCHOLARS programs through pre- and post-assessments and surveys administered to all participants (students, mentors, etc). These evaluative methods are used to track the following specific metrics: • 50 students will be mentored by an employed or self-employed college graduate in their field (or related field) of study. To evaluate the College to Career Mentorship, a pre- and post- assessment is administered to mentees that looks at self-confidence, self-perception, and connectedness to career field. Both mentors and mentees will be surveyed to determine responsiveness and appropriateness of match and overall program satisfaction.
• At least 18 students will receive a scholarship to attend a university, community college, or vocational training program. HAR Scholarship awardees are evaluated annually to determine how the scholarship award was spent, if student graduated from college, their employment status, if student has moved out of subsidized housing, and to determine other unmet needs of student. Once student has graduated from college, a survey is conducted every 5 years as a tracking mechanism through their career growth • 500 people will participate in a College Shower, including students and their family members. Students will be tracked annually to determine whether they remained a student, graduated, took a break, or dropped out.

By evaluating Project: SCHOLARS, the CDF hopes to determine student graduation rates, level of persistence, and speed of degree/certificate completion. Additionally, CDF has a history of responsive programming based on participants needs and program evaluations is a major component of the evolution of its programs.

What two lessons have informed your solution or project?

Since 1997, the CDF has implemented the HAR Scholarship program annually. Over this time more than $200,000 in scholarships were made, enabling over 200 students to attend an institute of higher education at a more affordable rate. Under new leadership, in 2012 the CDF underwent an evaluation process of the HAR Scholarship program and subsequently a strategic planning process in 2013-14. The main lesson that resulted from the HAR Scholarship evaluation and which further informed the CDF’s strategic planning and program implementation is simple and one that we have all heard growing up: money can’t buy everything.

Evaluation respondents repeatedly stated a need for mentorship, networking opportunities, career skills, and general assistance in preparing for the tumultuous transition from the so-called Housing Projects to the Ivory Towers of the higher education system. Many students felt out of place in the foreign atmosphere of college among middle income peers. Our scholarship awardees lamented their inability to talk with their parents, who are often monolingual with limited education, about their challenges or to ask for help.

These first generation students are not only new to the college system but they are also often facing real financial and emotional challenges with family. Crisis in the family, often related to health, is one of the biggest challenges that students face as they try to make a better life for themselves and their family. Our survey of past awardees indicated that the majority of students that took of time from college were community college students that faced a severe family crisis such as a death in the family or hospitalized family member. To keep the students enrolled and engaged in school, mentorship and support network is key.

Explain how implementing your project within the next twelve months is an achievable goal.

Implementing the HAR Scholarship, College to Career Mentorship, and College Showers in the next 12 months is an achievable goal as the CDF has developed needed infrastructure. Both the HAR Scholarship and College to Career Mentorship programs are currently in operation.

The HAR Scholarship application is made available for at minimum 3 months (usually January through April) and has an established application requiring submission of two letters of recommendations, a personal statement, list of extracurricular and community service (including employment/internship), and transcripts. A review committee of 15 individuals reads and evaluates every applications. The scores for each application is then averaged among all scores. Our Review Committee is dedicated to carefully evaluating every application because as many are past scholarship awardees they understand the impact a scholarship can have financially and emotionally.

The College to Career Mentorship also has infrastructure built, including an application process. As this is the initial year of operation, the program will continue to be fine-tuned and improved with training and other support.

If awarded, a new Outreach Coordinator will be hired to implement and grow the HAR Scholarship and College to Career Mentorship. The Outreach Coordinator will also be responsible for developing the College Showers. It will take creativity and hard work to develop this new program but is absolutely possible within three to six months.

Please list at least two major barriers/challenges you anticipate. What is your strategy for ensuring a successful implementation?

The two challenges that the CDF faces in implementing Project: SCHOLARS is outreaching Section 8 residents that are scattered throughout the County and live in market-rate housing. Compared to Public Housing residents, who live in one community, the Section 8 residents are more difficult to engage. We have had great success reaching out Section 8 participants by training staff of the Housing Authority of the County of Los Angeles (HACoLA) on CDF’s available programs, handing out flyers in HACoLA’s lobby, and hanging posters. Additionally, most Housing Authorities operate a program entitled Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) which guides residents to become economically self-sufficient through education and employment opportunities. Participants of the FSS program are often eager to learn about new opportunities and participate in CDF’s programs.

Another challenge that the CDF anticipates is developing new relationships with other local housing authorities as Project: SCHOLARS expands countywide. The CDF has a budding relationship with the Cities of Los Angeles and Long Beach, however, there is room to grow and expand. In particular, CDF will work toward gaining staff level support in outreaching and marketing Project: SCHOLARS. To date, residents of other housing authorities have participated in the CDF’s HAR Scholarship program, Reality Check Conference, and Farmers Market.

What resources does your project need?

  • Network/relationship support
  • Money (financial capital)
  • Volunteers/staff (human capital)
  • Publicity/awareness (social capital)
  • Education/training
  • Community outreach
  • Quality improvement research