The latest news and updates from CARA.

FAFSA Challenge(s)

As we head towards the end of summer and the start of college for the class of 2021, there are worrying dips in the number of students who have completed FAFSA.

CARA served as a source for a recent article about this on NPR Marketplace. Nationally, just over half the class of 2021 (52.6%) completed FAFSA by the end of June, down 5.1% from last year overall. These drops are steeper among Title 1 eligible schools (-6.8%) and schools serving high concentrations of students of color (-8.4%).

Amidst these challenges, we want to make special mention of one of our partner schools, Central Park East High School, who won this year’s Education Trust NY FAFSA challenge. With a 98% completion rate, CPEHS is one of 4 NYC winners and one of 12 statewide winners. As noted in the Ed Trust press release, the school’s 12 CARA-trained Right to College Peer Leaders played an important role in this accomplishment. We congratulate them for their hard work!

CARA program models featured as solutions for the future

With the passage of the American Rescue Plan (ARP) and the investment of $123 billion in K-12 education, the federal government has made a dramatic attempt to give communities the tools to rebuild after the pandemic. Along with collaborators from leading educational organizations across the country, CARA is pleased to be a contributor to Invest Forward, a new effort to encourage district and state leaders to prioritize support for students’ pathways to postsecondary and career success in their ARP spending plans. Be sure to check out the new website with detailed how-to guides for potential pathways investment strategies – CARA’s contribution focuses on expanding college advising during the school day – and more will be added each month.

Additionally, NYU’s Metro Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools featured CARA on its Perspectives blog. The post, “I Felt Like I Never Fit in”: Increasing College Access and Persistence, references CARA’s recent report on peer-led college access programming, citing the progress cities like New York have made in supporting students through the post-secondary planning process and urging colleges to match those efforts to support first-generation, low-income, BIPOC students to persist through to graduation.

We are excited to be a part of rebuilding in the year ahead, both in NYC and beyond.

Recent News from CARA

Summer 2021

  • Expanding Near Peer Counseling at CUNY

    CARA is excited to announce that, with generous funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the summer of 2021 will see the expansion of near peer counseling at CUNY.

    In partnership with CUNY’s Central Office of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management, City College of New York (CCNY), and Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC), CARA’s College Allies program will further expand through CUNY College Connect to serve up to 4,000 students at BMCC and CCNY in 2021-2022.

    CUNY College Connect was recently profiled in A New Near-Peer Coaching Program Strives to Keep Incoming Freshmen on Course, in The Education Trust’s Higher Ed – Equity Lens.

    This expansion will allow the colleges to provide proactive peer-to-peer advisement support to almost 100% of first year students not already in a special support program (e.g. CD, SEEK, ASAP).

    Beyond directly serving these students, CUNY central and campus partners will work together to ensure Peer Leaders are integrated into campus-based programming and to develop a strategic plan to scale peer-to-peer programming across CUNY in future years.

    For the short-term, the program will expand to two more campuses in 2022-2023, doubling the number of students reached. In the long term, the goal is for Peer Leaders to be used systemwide to both expand advisement capacity and provide professional pathways in education and counseling to a widening group of CUNY students.

  • Meringoff Valedictory Prize

    We’re thrilled that, for the second year in a row, two CARA Youth Leaders received scholarships from the Meringoff Family Foundation through the annual Meringoff Valedictory Prize competition. First place awardee Deneliz Espinal is a Youth Leader at Academy of Innovative Technology on the Franklin K. Lane Campus, with Cypress Hills LDC; second place awardee Jhoanna Fernandez is a Youth Leader at Dreamyard Preparatory School on the Taft Campus with New Settlement Apartments. Deneliz will be attending University of Connecticut and Jhoanna will be attending CUNY City College.

    We are so proud of them, and so grateful to the Meringoff Family Foundation for their continued support for CARA and our Youth Leaders. You can read Deneliz’ essay here.


    Deneliz Espinal (Left) || Jhoanna Fernandez (Right)

  • CARA’s co-director featured on “In Your Face” podcast

    In her new book, Fires in Our Lives: Advice for Teachers from Today’s High School Students, Kathleen Cushman features former CARA Youth Leader Angel Perez. Alongside the book, Cushman has released a series of podcasts, one of which features CARA co-director Lori Chajet.

    As Chajet notes, “We’re in a moment where the future of college access is enough in crisis – the future of college and higher education is enough in crisis – that we need to see stronger pipelines, they need to start earlier, and that support needs to last through college. And peer leadership is the best way to do it.”

    Listen to: “In Your Face: Youth as Coaches on the College Path”

Spring 2021

  • Peer Led College Access Programming: A Profile of Student Success Centers in NYC

    CARA is proud to announce the release of a new report, Peer Led College Access Programming: A Profile of Student Success Centers in NYC. Released at a moment when Student Success Centers (SSCs) are fighting for sustainable public funding, the report:

    • Documents the history of the student-led initiative to establish Student Success Centers in NYC to address the college guidance gap;
    • Profiles the model’s central and distinct role for trained high school students – Youth Leaders – to support their peers through the college process;
    • Tracks the exponential growth of the SSC movement from 2 SSCs in 2007 serving 3,000 students to 17 SSCs in 2019 serving 14,000+ students; and the resulting 26% increase in graduation rates and 17% in post-secondary enrollment over time;
    • Defines the SSC model, outlining best practices for effective implementation;
    • Profiles one SSC to show how it shifted the college going culture of the large high school it served.

    CARA was founded largely because of the work of youth organizers from The Urban Youth Collaborative who launched our peer-to-peer model for college access and persistence back in 2007. It was these young people who saw how their communities were systematically denied opportunities to access higher education, and who wanted to play a role in addressing the issues themselves. They shaped CARA’s core values to Strive for Equity and Justice, Empower Young People, and to Serve All Students.

    We know we have a long way to go – but we are not veering from the path UYC organizers set us on many years ago.

    The NYC SSC Coalition is fighting to ensure that public funding is dedicated to sustain and grow this innovative and powerful approach to closing the college guidance gap; this report demonstrates why. We urge you to read it, share it, and support the SSC Coalition’s efforts to ensure that NYC public high school students are given the resources and support they need – and deserve – to realize their college aspirations.

  • Peer Leaders for College Persistence In Eastern PA

    Growing out of CARA’s work to integrate Peer Leaders into advising and college persistence programming at Northampton Community College, Peer Mentors Evan Simmons & Elijah Vazquez (both NCC ’21) initiated, planned, and moderated a March 18th “conscious conversation” event, What Diversity Means to You. The event offered a forum for students to speak openly with each other about crucial and timely matters of diversity and inclusion. They invited students and key NCC staff members, including the DEI leadership and members of the counseling, advising, and career services staff, to share their perspectives. Over 25 students and staff attended and took part in a rich dialogue that was masterfully facilitated by Elijah and Evan.

    “I wanted to become a peer leader to help students avoid the pitfalls caused by transitioning to college. It is a massive change that honestly is not adequately explained before the transition starts. As a second-year student, I have learned how to avoid most of these pitfalls and what to do when they occur.” –Evan Simmons

  • Peer Leaders for College Access in Rural Georgia

    “My biggest challenge was realizing that not everything has to be perfect…. Going into being a Youth Leader, I thought that I had to know everything. Everything that I was being trained to do and learn, I thought that I had to know it the first day that I was starting with a student. But later on you find that it’s also a learning experience because you’re not familiar with everyone’s situation, and you need to adapt.” –Rebecca Beloy, Curtis High School

    Inspired by the film Personal Statement, English teacher Christan Bush reached out to CARA to bring our Right to College program structure and Youth Leader training to Ware County High School in Georgia. With generous funding from The Debley Foundation and the support of the county, this fall Ms. Bush and her students began work to close the guidance gap created by the school’s lack of a full time college counselor.

    On their first day of training, peer leaders in Georgia were joined by NYC peer leaders who shared their experiences working with their peers.

  • 30 New Youth Leaders Gear up to Help their Peers through the College Process

    CARA is excited to be partnering this spring with 14 high schools to integrate high-school aged Peer Leaders into their college offices. With no in-person support, it has been particularly challenging for counselors to connect with all of their students and to help them through the many steps of the college process. As emerging research notes, trained high school students, who have both pre-existing relationships with their peers and regular access to them through classes and social media, are well positioned to make sure the pandemic does not derail anyone’s college dreams.

    Thank you to the Heckscher Foundation for its recognition of the additional challenges facing the class of 2021 and for believing in the power of peer leaders.

CARA Featured in the News and Policy Reports