Benchmarking Report Member Profile: Bottom Line

December 11, 2014

Bill DeBaun
Program Analyst

This 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 Bottom Line.

In 1997, Bottom Line helped 25 Boston students enroll in college and 80 percent of these to complete within six years. 17 years later, Bottom Line now operates in four cities. Bottom Line guides students through applying and enrolling to college. Notably, students who attend one of Bottom Line’s “partner colleges,” will receive one-on-one counseling through up to six years of their undergraduate experience. The target colleges selected by Bottom Line are those that match quality with affordability.

Students are selected on the basis of their likelihood to return to their communities and build them after college. Students meet 5-6 times on average for about an hour to create and package their applications. 3-4 more meetings in the spring of senior year center around financial aid and enrollment decisions.

Bottom Line tracks and stores indicators according to their DEAL rubric. DEAL stands for Degree (credits accumulated, GPA), Employability (quality of resumes, networking, informational interviewing), Aid (student’s balance), and Life (coping skills, students’ home situation). This rubric, and the services students receive, are both also tracked. Counselors use this database to help decide which services each student should receive. “Any time we can use data to make better decisions around serving students, we will,” says Andrew MacKenzie, but he draws short of being called a “data-driven” organization and instead describes Bottom Line as one that is “data-informed.” This is because there is a lot of useful qualitative information that does not show up in a report. “At the end of the day, we’re trying to find the best way to serve these students, and that sometimes means doing new things or trying things differently,” he emphasizes.

Program evaluation at Bottom Line takes a few different forms. Beyond the randomized control trial they are undertaking now, MacKenzie also routinely takes on “strategic questions” for the organization. Currently that is taking the form of developing a single Bottom Line-wide annual summary report for access and success. Although each Bottom Line traditionally runs such a report for themselves, the organization is attempting to produce a national version this year.

Bottom Line’s partnerships “have connections on both ends of [their] process.” Bottom Line takes students from community partners who work with students at a younger age and are then passed along for college access services. These partnerships are maintained through Bottom Line’s accountability to the organizations from which it receives students. There are also partnerships on the success side; students are connected with partners who help to develop networking and resume writing skills.

The organizational culture at Bottom Line is “decentralized” in that each site and city has a different set of students and concerns. Despite this, the aim for Bottom Line is to ensure that different cities do not sound like separate franchises: “We want it to feel like one big organization,” says MacKenzie. Within that organization, “counselors feel their job is to serve students and everyone else’s is to facilitate that.”

Andrew MacKenzie says that “the game changers” to which Bottom Line’s success can be attributed are conversations with students around finances and admissibility. “There are a lot of students out there from families with an EFC of zero, and [schools] will gladly charge that family $20,000 per year. There are other schools that will give as good or better education, and from which that student can graduate with zero debt. We’re able to help that student identify which schools are likely to fall into the latter category, and to see the merits of attending such a school.” 

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