Benchmarking Report Member Profile: College Now Greater Cleveland

December 15, 2014

Last week, NCAN released Closing the Graduation Gap: 2014 National College Access and Success Benchmarking Report, the first of an annual series. In this report, NCAN, working with the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, examines the outcomes of students served by NCAN members. Additionally, the report profiles five NCAN members who submitted data for the Benchmarking Project. This week, NCAN’s blog will highlight these five members even further through a more in-depth look. Today we examine College Now Greater Cleveland.

Since 1966, College Now Greater Cleveland (CNGC) has provided services to students in the Cleveland metropolitan area. The program has grown significantly and now offers services to students in 67 schools as well as an adult population; all told, 20,000-25,000 individuals received services of some kind from CNGC last year.

CNGC largely has an open door policy. Although some federal grant programs have requirements, “there are very few restrictions in when, where, and how we’ll provide services,” says Jeff McKissick, Director of IT and Data Services. Those services are varied and abundant. CNGC advisors are located in middle and high schools and provide in-school advising. Additionally, there are two community resource centers that largely serve adult populations looking to get into the workforce, change their careers, find a postsecondary pathway, or pursue a higher level degree.

Data collection is key for keeping track of all of the students and the services that they receive. CNGC categorizes its activities into six core services: academic advising, career exploration, postsecondary admissions, postsecondary entrance exams, financial aid, and last dollar scholarships. Data on these core services are recorded and analyzed in a number of different ways because these data are key to the program’s evaluation process. “We are a heavily, heavily data-driven organization,” says McKissick. “We provide technical assistance to a lot of other smaller organizations that are trying to improve their organizations in terms of data.”

When CNGC works with a student individually, data about that interaction’s duration, core category of service provided, any related tasks, and who the advisor was are recorded into an online database, which has about 80,000 student records at the time of this writing. These individual sessions last about 15 minutes.

At the end of each year, College Now does a “dosage analysis” and correlates the number of services students received with whether they went to college. They found that students that receive eight individual sessions in their senior year are 70% more likely to go to college. As a result of this finding, program staff attempt to meet with every senior at least eight times in their senior year to ensure that they receive key services. In addition to providing services, CNGC also distributes $2.3 million in scholarships annually to students and adults who meet academic requirements (2.5+ GPA, 18 ACT) and who are Pell-eligible.

Those students who receive scholarships from CNGC are paired with a mentor once they matriculate. There are currently 700 mentor/mentee matches, and this is expected to grow to over 1,000 next year. A team of staff from CNGC monitor the interactions in these matches (which are managed through Chronus).  Anecdotally, College Now is “noticing a big difference in terms of persistence between their first cohort who didn’t have mentoring” and subsequent cohorts who have had it, says McKissick, although the first cohort contained only 50 students.

Although the above example is anecdotal, CNGC is committed to making decisions with having data in-hand. Every week, they run a set of internal program analytics to ensure that all data are being entered and that program and management staff are getting the right level of productivity from the advising group. Reports are run on students by grade, number of sessions, etc. Additionally, the program has been through a number of internal and external evaluations. Every three years, the AmeriCorps (which provides advisors) component of the program goes through an evaluation. Additionally, CNGC conducts an external evaluation of its advising services. All of these are supplemented by internal formative and summative evaluations intended to make program improvements and demonstrate whether goals have been met.


In addition to data, another conscious focus for CNGC is on partnerships. In the past four years, the organization has approximately quadrupled their number of partnerships. These have included formal relationships with other community-based organizations as well as partnerships with businesses and IHEs. An example of these partnerships includes teaming with the local public library system, which was happy to provide space for after-school programs. Although there are other partnerships, the common thread is College Now trying to teach other youth-serving agencies some of the college readiness, access, and success principles so they can use these on their own.

Providing this many services to this many individuals is no easy feat, but the organization is always looking for new solutions. Among the other challenges facing College Now are providing more robust career-advising services and helping students to understand the myriad existing postsecondary pathways as well as continuing to streamline the amount of effort it takes to collect, manage, and analyze the sizeable amounts of data associated with the program.

Moving forward, College Now staff members say that the organization’s leadership provides a clear direction of where the organization should go and allows staff to pursue it. To that end, other organizational aspirations include better differentiating services to cohorts based on that cohort’s needs. For example, Latino and African-American males as a whole may need different services than homeless youth or teenage mothers. Better tailoring of services, College Now believes, could lead to more student success. This is part of the overarching vision of the organization, staff members said when interviewed. “Our underlying assumptions, values, and beliefs are centered around what’s best for the students. We do whatever it takes to help them. We are responsible for the trajectory of a young person’s life and play a major role in that.”

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