The latest news and updates from CARA.
Back to In-Person Conferences: CARA @NCAN in Atlanta
In September, the National College Attainment Network (NCAN) hosted its first in person conference since 2019. With roughly 1200 educators from around the country convening in Atlanta, CARA was excited to see that many workshops focused not just on furthering equity in the college access/success space, but on doing so through amplifying student voice.
Shalema Henderson, CARA’s Director of College Allies, presented a roundtable discussion titled Paving Professional Pathways: Using Peer Leadership to Close the Skills Awareness Gap. The session framed CARA’s peer-to-peer access and persistence model as a response to the challenges that many college students face finding career-relevant experiences and determining a career pathway. The session demonstrated how the training and work-based learning peer leaders experience provide them with a set of career-specific and transferable career-readiness skills that prepare them for careers in education, youth services, and counseling but also for a wider range of fields. The discussion centered on the ways in which the role of peer leader helps develop the skills needed to meet the needs of 21st century employers while also supporting institutions of higher education to expand meaningful career opportunities for students.
One of the most enduring takeaways from the conference was the passion and commitment displayed by practitioners, policy makers, and funders – nationwide – who are invested in seeing educational opportunities be made accessible, affordable and equitable for all students. CARA is grateful to be learning with and from the larger field, and to be a contributor to it.
Recent News from CARA
To mark their first year as Program Associates at CARA, Krystal Diaz and Pamela Vasquez reflected together on insights they would share with their younger peer leader selves; career skills and self-care; and their goals for the future.
What Skills Have Stayed With You From Being A Peer Leader?
Krystal: My ability to talk to people and make whoever I’m talking to in the room comfortable, especially peer leaders. I owe a lot of my success to that – without developing that skill and being put in those uncomfortable positions of counseling my peers and table facilitating and running a little session here and there, slowly building up to full on reaching out to people on my own and everything. I think that’s my biggest takeaway skill that I got from starting off as a Bridge Coach.
Pamela: I never saw myself doing this until I got the Bridge Coach position. What also really helped me was CARA as a whole, opening a lot of doors. [For the other jobs I’ve had], at Pratt, at different schools, was because of CARA as my network.
Krystal: And now working with peer leaders coming off us being peer leaders, it gives us an opportunity to share with our younger selves in the work that we do and kind of make sure that we’re giving them the direction, the opportunities, the truth that maybe we didn’t get.
Above: College Bridge Coach Agustin Garcia Flores with
the New Settlement Youth Leaders during Summer Training Institute.
Being a CARA peer leader means sharing in the goal of bringing more college and future planning access into first-generation/low income communities. Across our peer leader programs young people are trained to not only assist their peers with the various processes regarding planning for their futures, but also to improve their own leadership and professional development skills. As an organization, we are always looking for ways to create these opportunities in-house.
Summer 2021 was the pilot season where a small group of Bridge Coaches were selected to facilitate in training classrooms for Right to College Summer Institute. Helping onboard these budding peer leaders, the Bridge Coaches utilized their experiences in college and career planning to prep Youth Leaders on what to expect with their new roles in their high schools. Last summer was a great success, so Bridge Coaches were invited again this summer to take on those same roles; with the setting now switching to in-person, there was a whole new set of skills for both YLs and BCs. (See photo above)
For the year ahead, College Bridge and Right to College have made a joint goal to find more ways to collaborate. Sharing PDs, putting Bridge Coaches at joint sites in leadership roles with their Youth Leaders, and creating training sessions that bring both groups together are a few of the ways BC and RtC plan to intermingle in the new year to come.
As we head into the start of the 2022-23 school year feeling hopeful about more of a return to pre-COVID “normal”, we are also seeing a concerning trend in postsecondary education. Gathered from the Strada Education Network, ECMC Group, and Gallup and featured in this article in The Hechinger Report, the numbers above indicate lasting impacts from the pandemic on attitudes towards higher education. As noted in the article, many states were seeing drops in enrollment even before the pandemic; 2020 and 2021 numbers are showing these drops extend to double digits, and are especially high at community colleges.
Low-income students who are first generation to college are over-represented in these numbers, as are students of color. A recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education notes that “While undergraduate enrollment at two- and four-year colleges fell 9 percent from 2010 to 2020, the number of Black undergraduates fell nearly 17 percent. On at least 500 campuses, Black enrollment dropped by more than half.”
These numbers line up with the reality of what we have been seeing and hearing from students and school staff, and contribute to New York City’s move to focus increasingly on careers in addition to college. While CARA is broadening our work in similar ways, we also continue to believe in the importance of making college possible for all young people, and especially those who have had the least access to it historically.
Recent policy news, from President Biden’s announcement that up to $20,000 in loan debt will be cancelled for Pell grant recipients, and NY State’s announcement that TAP will be extended to part time students, may shift the calculus for students and families in more positive ways.
In the year ahead, we will be keeping a close eye on how these trends and policy shifts are playing out in the high schools and colleges we partner with. No matter what, we will continue to be committed to training young people and improving school structures for college access and success.
We are honored and excited to share that CARA has received a gift of $2 million dollars from MacKenzie Scott to support our postsecondary access and success work.
This gift is a reflection of all of the work CARA has done since 2011 in partnership with educators, young people, activists, funders, and so many others to build an organization that is driven by equity, transforms institutions to better serve all of its students, and positions young people as powerful forces within their own communities.
It comes at a critical moment for CARA, as our work is beginning to spread beyond New York City to other states and regions. We will continue to grow carefully – with close attention to maintaining fidelity to our models and the mission of our work – and will distribute the funding across the next 5 years in order to do so.
We are deeply grateful to MacKenzie Scott for this opportunity to develop CARA in ways that further impact the communities with which we work and the field of postsecondary access and persistence.
You can see the announcement on the Graduate Center website.
We look forward to sharing more about our plans in the year ahead.
In 2017 CARA began working with Rachel Romaine, the Student Life Manager for the Black Male Empowerment Cooperative (BMEC) at LaGuardia Community College, to build a peer-to-peer program that would provide support to students in LaGuardia’s chapter of CUNY’s Black Male Initiative. Having worked at the college in a variety of roles, but never with a student-facing program, Rachel came in excited to learn. “I came in not knowing anything about managing a group of young people or peer mentoring at all,” she notes.
Over the past 4 years, under Rachel’s leadership, BMEC has had 16 Peer Leaders who have helped hundreds of LaGuardia students to “not be afraid to ask for help and…have folks in their corner and really help them to succeed.”
Beyond that, she has helped her Peer Leaders to understand how their training and experience has prepared them for their own next steps: “I tell my Peer Leaders that from these trainings they can apply to be an advisor; I don’t think there is any other program that does that.”
Working through an increasing range of programs across the CUNY system, CARA is pleased to bring peer leadership to an ever growing group of young people.
What type of support did you receive in your transition from high school to college?
CARA College Bridge coach support followed me in the summer after graduating. You [Pamela] were checking up on me and other students, that was amazing. The dedication you put into students is not just a job but it’s a connection that stays with you. I appreciate it. You got me through it.You were an inspiration. I was like ‘I wanna do what Pamela is doing, working and helping others, while being in college and getting good grades.’ When I wanted to give up my freshman year in college or when things got hard, I heard your voice in my head saying ‘Keep going.’For me specifically when I came here, I was new to the country, new to school, new to college, I feel like having a College Bridge Coach to help me through the college process made it so much easier and I could honestly say I would not have known how to apply to college without your help.
CARA’s College Inquiry program is proud to partner this year with The James Baldwin School. Located on the Bayard Rustin Educational Complex in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood, JBS is a transfer high school primarily serving students who are over-age and undercredited. It is known for the personalized, warm feel of its Crew program (advisory), and a major initiative this year was to redesign Crew as a space where young people can deeply explore career and college options in order to prepare for life after high school.
Teachers and counselors at Baldwin, with the support of their College Inquiry coach, worked hard to tailor CARA’s 9 – 12 curriculum to fit the more fluid context of a transfer high school. Many JBS students have experienced schooling that is unresponsive to their needs, and so the postsecondary team (a.k.a. The Futures Office) must excel at presenting young people with career pathways and college options that are personalized, supportive environments. Among other things, CARA provided professional development to empower newer members of the Futures Office to serve this unique student body. We look forward to seeing students’ futures thriving at The James Baldwin School.
As New York City emerges from the pandemic, one of the ongoing themes we’re hearing from graduating students is that they are hesitant about going to college and are focused on working in order to provide for themselves and their families. This sentiment is shared by many students across the country, with college enrollments dropping by 1.4 million students since the beginning of the pandemic, including a continued decline of 4.7% in the past year.
In response to this, schools and employers are rethinking the relationship between higher education and careers. A number of colleges are adapting to make more direct linkages between majors and careers, and employers have removed the college degree as a requirement from tens of thousands of job applications. Here in NYC, the new Chancellor of public schools, David Banks, has said that ensuring students are set up for career success will be the Department of Education’s “north star.”
At CARA, we are watching these changes closely, as we want to be able to add young people’s voices to these conversations and carefully examine the implications for equity. For that reason, over the next year CARA will be piloting an effort to broaden our work from “college counseling” to “college & career counseling” in substantive and meaningful ways. Our goal is to prepare students for multiple pathways that include both college and careers, and make explicit connections between education and the workforce. We believe that greater understanding of these connections can help students make well-informed decisions about next steps after high school, help them stay the course through postsecondary education, and prepare them for career pathways that are fulfilling and family sustaining.
As always, we will be doing this work in collaboration with schools and students. Specifically, we will be partnering with JobsFirstNYC, Shared Lane, and a group of NYC high schools to explore and pilot changes to our programming. At these schools, we will be increasing exposure to career exploration in 9th and 10th grade, working to increase opportunities for work-based learning in 11th grade, and building capacity to do counseling for non-college-bound students in 12th grade. We will be documenting the program as it unfolds to track our learnings and investigate implications for equity. At the end of the year, we hope to have transformed our work in order to better support students to travel a range of postsecondary pathways that make sense to and for them, as well as to share what we’ve learned with our colleagues in NYC and beyond.
In a huge win for student equity, the NYC Department of Education has renewed its funding for Student Success Centers (SSCs), reopening several formerly closed centers and reinstating full funding to other centers that had been running with significantly reduced budgets.
This decision was a direct result of consistent advocacy in the face of DoE budget cuts by the SSC Coalition, a group of CBOs that partner directly with schools to implement the model.
SSC Coalition Members
- Asian Americans for Equality
- Cypress Hills LDC
- East Side House Settlement
- Good Shepherd Services
- Hudson Guild
- Kingsbridge Heights Community Center
- Make the Road NY
- New Settlement
Leveraging CARA’s documentation of the model and its impact, the SSC Coalition secured funding that has enabled 8 CBOs to provide support to 39 high schools across 4 boroughs, expanding postsecondary pathways counseling for over 7,300 students in NYC.
CARA is looking forward to returning to in-person Youth Leader training this summer, where we will prepare over 100 Youth Leaders to undertake this work in the 2022-23 school year.
CARA’s peer leadership model was highlighted in a recent episode of the Bell’s Miseducation podcast, The College Advising Gap. As the reporters, Elsabet Franklin and Tenzin Jobe (who are themselves high school seniors) note, “consistently, NYC public high school students have told us that they don’t feel properly supported by their schools in the college process”. Elsabet and Tenzin highlight that, while CARA’s peer leadership model is an important step in the right direction, it is just a piece of the puzzle in truly providing sufficient postsecondary advising to all students in all schools.
Each summer since 2013, CARA has hosted interns from Brown University through its Careers in the Common Good Summer in NYC program, which places current students at nonprofits in New York City run by Brown alumni. As we prepare to host an intern for the 10th summer, CARA was also featured at the Brown Alumni club’s “Spotlight on Social Justice” on April 26th.
The event gave CARA founders Janice Bloom and Lori Chajet a chance to highlight the through line between their time at Brown – where both studied with educational reformer Ted Sizer – and the genesis of CARA. It also featured three former CCG interns – Gabe Reyes ‘18, Ijahala Pottinger ‘20 and Moriah Tom, ‘21, all first-generation to college students themselves – talking about their paths to, through and beyond college, and how their time at CARA shaped those paths.
Some words that we will take with us from the event:
“Once you empower a student, you can never take that power away.” —Ijahala Pottinger
“Being the person I wish I had had in my life allows me to see how far I’ve come.” —Moriah Tom
While falling short of the proposed New Deal for CUNY, the 2022-23 New York state budget is a major achievement–it represents the biggest year-to-year increase in state funding for CUNY in decades. Some highlights of the budget include money for hiring new full-time faculty, expanding childcare centers on all CUNY campuses, and providing TAP (Tuition Assistance Program) to part-time students. Not only is this a win for CUNY, it’s also a win for New York City students, as 57% of all NYC high school graduates enroll in CUNY and its colleges consistently rank in among the top 10 in the nation for producing economic mobility.
Despite this important progress, there are two areas in particular that the budget fell short. First, it failed to realize the New Deal for CUNY’s goal of reinstating free tuition–a policy CUNY had in place from its founding in 1847 until 1976. Second, the budget will not reduce CUNY’s student-to-advisor ratios, which can be as high as 1 to 1,000. For CARA, this reinforces the need to continue advocating for more advising resources at CUNY and for the expansion of programs like College Allies, which pay and train students to support their peers on campus.
In early March, CARA was invited to present at NPSI’s annual conference, which convenes postsecondary leadership teams from districts around the country. CARA’s “spark session” – featuring Deneysis Labrada (director of College Bridge), Rob Schwarz (AP at partner Richmond Hill High School) and co-director Janice Bloom – focused on transforming whole school infrastructure, and featured takeaways from our policy brief Organizing for Access: Building High School Capacity to Support Students’ Postsecondary Pathways. Other conference presenters included Janice Jackson, former CEO of Chicago Public Schools, and Arne Duncan, former U.S. Secretary of Education.
CARA was excited to bring both its whole school and peer leadership work to a national audience, and is grateful to NPSI’s founder, Greg Darnieder, for his ongoing support and mentorship.
Since it was first created in 2019, we have been pleased to see CARA’s Toolkit for Undocumented Students shared widely, by high school college offices, the DoE’s Office of Multilingual Learners, and NYSACAC. Our toolkit has now seen an update! It includes more recent information about the NY State Dream Act, links to local organizations – plus some aesthetically pleasing changes.
As noted in this recent piece in the Nation, undocumented students and their families have been hit hard by the pandemic and need resources now more than ever. We hope that the Toolkit continues to support undocumented students and their families through their postsecondary explorations in its new and improved form.