Presidential 2016: A High-Tech, High-Touch Approach to Improving College Success

Thanks to the persistence of social innovators across the country, every day we see strategies that are working and delivering results in a rapidly changing world. This ongoing blog series will highlight the voices of our Coalition of more than 70 social innovators and their solutions to our country’s most pressing social problems, as well as examples of how this powerful work can be transformed into national change. Today we will hear from Alex Bernadotte, Founder and CEO of Beyond 12, about leveraging data, technology, and coaching to increase college persistence and success among first-generation college students.

It’s college graduation season – my favorite time of year! I still get goosebumps every time I hear “Pomp and Circumstance.” I am reminded of my own journey and the pride my family felt as they sat in the audience at Dartmouth and watched me walk across that stage to receive my diploma. At the time, “Pomp and Circumstance” wasn’t just my graduation march. It was the march of the village that raised me; the celebration of my persistence as a first-generation college-goer and our perseverance as a family; the manifestation of my parents’ dreams for me, their firstborn, that began the day they left our native Haiti in search of the American dream. It was a magical day.

Unfortunately, so many students who start their college journeys don’t get to experience the magic of graduation day. Despite the fact that more young people than ever are enrolling in college, too many students – particularly those from low-income communities – never graduate. Nationally, only 9% of students in the bottom income quartile have earned a bachelor’s degree by their mid-20s, compared to 77% of students in the top income quartile.

I founded Beyond 12 in 2009 to dramatically increase the number of students from under-resourced communities who graduate from our nation’s colleges and universities. We are a technology-based service organization and we address the college completion challenge at its root by acting as a data and service bridge between K-12 and higher education. Through a high-tech, high-touch approach, we:

TRACK – Beyond 12’s Alumni Tracker allows high schools and pre-college programs to track quantitative and qualitative data about their students’ post-secondary progress.

CONNECT – Beyond 12’s “MyCoach” mobile app allows students to report their post-secondary data while helping them manage campus-specific deadlines and activities, and connecting them to campus resources.

COACH – Beyond 12’s inspirational virtual college coaches help students address key challenges so they can be more effective in and out of their college classrooms, as well as when they enter the workforce.

We are currently tracking the post-secondary progress of over 40,000 students and coaching close to 3,000 students on 180 college campuses. By collecting and sharing longitudinal data that crosses K-12 and higher education, Beyond 12 not only provides students with differentiated coaching that ensures they earn a college degree, but also provides actionable feedback to high schools and programs about their college preparatory efforts, improves the retention work of colleges and universities by sharing data-driven insights gained from supporting students, and influences the national conversation about college persistence and success.

It is such a privilege and honor to celebrate the magic of “Pomp and Circumstance” with so many of the students we serve. One of those students, Daniela, walked across the stage earlier this month at Georgia Tech to receive her degree in Applied Languages and Intercultural Studies with a concentration in French and a minor in Spanish. Daniela is the first in her family to receive a college degree, and she graduated with the highest honors and plans to become a Spanish teacher. But like so many first-generation college students, the path to graduation was filled with challenges for Daniela. Because of family circumstances, she had to work a part-time job in order to help support her younger sister all while completing a rigorous course of study.
Daniela and Cat

After overcoming those challenges as a college student, I can only imagine what her mom and dad felt as they adorned her with her stole and cords; as they heard “Pomp and Circumstance” play; as they watched Daniela walk across the graduation stage.

Do you know who else was with Daniela on graduation day? Her Beyond 12 College Coach, Cat Bioc. Cat attended Daniela’s graduation and showered her with hugs and Beyond 12’s most heartfelt congratulations. While our coaches interact with our students virtually, they definitely take the time to participate in these special moments that can only be experienced “live.” Cat has been a phenomenal college coach (she is now a Program Manager at Beyond 12) and is a part of Daniela’s success story. As the first person in her family to earn a college degree, Cat understands firsthand the challenges that Daniela and other first-generation college students face on their road to graduation. Like Daniela, Cat’s path to earning her degree from Emory was not easy. But she persevered and is one of the best college coaches with whom I have ever had the pleasure of working. Today, I salute Daniela, her family, Cat, and all of the other first-generation college students who are experiencing the magic of “Pomp and Circumstance.”

Because of the growing need for a post-secondary degree or credential in almost every occupation in today’s job market, we can no longer afford to ignore the college graduation gap between students from low-income communities and their wealthier peers. In addition to expanding student financial aid, I urge our next President to adopt policies that promote data transparency between our high schools, colleges, and employers, and reward colleges and universities that graduate low-income students at high rates with additional funding for enriched student services. These efforts will help us ensure that Daniela and Cat are no longer the exception but the rule. Our nation’s future depends on it.

Read more about how social innovators in the America Forward Coalition, like Beyond 12, are solving America’s biggest problems in communities across the country every day in our briefing book, Moving America Forward: Innovators Lead the Way to Unlocking America’s Potential, and join the conversation. Follow @Beyond12 and @America_Forward, and tell us how data, tech, and coaching helped you succeed in college using #AFPresidential16.

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