|By Simmons, Jeff|
You're probably familiar with onestop shopping - venues that ease consumer angst and provide an array of items to make the retail experience much more digestible and simple.
In the higher education world, a similar concept is cropping up on community college campuses across the country, establishing a hub of resources to help students. In this situation, however, students are shopping for precious dollars rather than spending them.
The venture is called
The initiative received a
As the Community College Initiative expansion gathered momentum, Single Stop partnered with the
"Our organization has been committed to a student success and completion agenda," said
In 2012, the national nonprofit
In a recent analysis of the program, Clearing the Path to a Brighter Future, researchers examined Single Stop operations and pointed out that many community college students have financial needs that are not covered by financial aid packages, such as contributing to their households.
"Single Stop brings money to the table," said Sara Goldrick-Rab, who evaluated the program. "Students say that the Single Stop office is a place where they really care about me and they 'get it'. What impressed me the most is how much the schools and students talk about how the approach that Single Stop is taking is so different than the typical community college student services approach."
At its heart, Single Stop imbues a onestop shopping system, but with a tender touch. Single Stop targets a growing segment of the community college community: most are first-generation students, and 40 percent are parents. Their average income is
While a number face informational barriers, language barriers or a lack of social connections pose obstacles for others. So Single Stop brings students into contact with resources supported by funding streams that can help them become more self-sufficient and achieve economic mobility, such as health insurance,
Overall, 41 percent of Single Stop students identify as Hispanic or Latino, and 35 percent identify as black.
"We serve a good portion of Hispanic students at community colleges," said Brown. "Because this is such a comprehensive and centralized approach to helping students, it really is a benefit to not only Hispanic students but other minorities and other underrepresented students."
"Hispanic students are often times coming from a family that believes education is really important but hasn't been able to make college happen for a million different reasons," Goldrick-Rab stated. "These students are ambitious and excited to be there because they are the first in their families to go to college. But when they go, they don't go the way many people imagine college students attend."
The Hispanic students that GoldrickRab met with explained that they made educational decisions with their families as a unit. Often they are attending college as a way to ultimately help their families. "It's a much more collective decision about paying it back, and paying it forward," she said.
As a result, often they are struggling to juggle family, school and work demands simultaneously.
The experience at
"I remember when Single Stop first approached us in 2009. We were highly skeptical, and thought there has to be a catch because they introduced us to so many wonderful services they could provide to our students," said Hostos Student Development Assistant Dean Johanna Gómez. "We asked 'what do we have to give in return?' because most of the time a college has to provide some type of financial matching, but this wasn't the case."
A key selling point was that Single Stop would help connect students with tax benefits and would help them prepare their taxes for free.
Hostos' Single Stop and financial aid offices take an integrated approach to serving students. They coordinate outreach campaigns and the provision of services, permitting each office to develop expertise in a portion of the college financing process. Single Stop partners with local experts to provide free tax preparation services to students and so, at Hostos, the tax preparers direct students to special Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) completion sessions coordinated by the Financial Aid Office.
"We know that our students need additional assistance in order to continue with their courses," Gómez said. "During this time, we had students com- ing to our office asking for financial support just to buy books to get transportation, or indicating they were hungry. Those are impediments to a successful education."
Students, she said, often were afraid to reach out to ask people for help. Single Stop allocated
In 2009, Hostos helped 400 students. That grew to 700 in 2010, and by 2013, the program's reach extended to 1,900 students. The majority of the students seeking assistance have been Hispanic or AfricanAmerican, a reflection on the overall student demographics at Hostos.
In the end, Gómez said, "the students became Single Stop's biggest ambassadors. They told their friends they got assistance. It was like a buddy system. We don't only help students; we help their families, because some of our students are dependent on their parents."
She recalled enlisting student volunteers to distribute information in classrooms. The students were dispatched across campus, and when they returned, it solidified her instinct that Single Stop was catching on: volunteers reported that peers responded, "We went there! That's a great service!"
One such beneficiary was
"I first sought the services when I had a problem with my tuition and felt like I didn't have anywhere to go," Acosta said. "I wasn't anticipating a lot of help. But if it wasn't for me going there, I wouldn't be in college right now."
Single Stop helped her explore other financial opportunities, such as a tuition support pipeline, and a grant to assist with back tuition. She also took advantage of the program's legal services support, and credited the one-to-one assistance she received.
"1 wasn't so much nervous as I was reluctant because I had gone to so many places and kept getting the runaround. When I came here, it seemed so simple. They helped me fill out everything, step by step," she said.
Goldrick-Rab praised the Hostos program. "There is also a real connection with the staff at Hostos," she said. "The students treat the woman who works in the office like family and that's superimportant because family is so often important to these students because often, when students come to a school it doesn't feel like family."
"Single Stop does bring a double bottom line," she said. "You are bringing money to the students so there is a return to the student getting a degree, and there's a return to the college for the student getting a degree."
Both she and Brown pointed out that colleges and universities should explore the
Said Brown: "As I've traveled to Single Stop locations and talked with students I am absolutely convinced that this is the way we should be thinking about students in the broader context, in particular to those in our colleges that need special support and services in order to be successful.
"I know that once we can get them into college and give them services and benefits they need, we can keep them in college and vastly improve their economic circumstances. And, I would argue that's in all of our best interests."
|Copyright:||(c) 2014 The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education|
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