JP Kids: College graduation is Bottom Line for local nonprofit

February 22, 2008
By

DAVID TABER

JP resident and English High School senior Valeria Cabrerea has applied to 12 colleges.

So far, she has been accepted into the Wentworth Institute of Technology and Emmanuel College. She is waiting to hear from Harvard, she said.

“I don’t know what I want to study,” she said. “I’m applying to large schools, small schools, public schools, private schools, safe schools, business schools—I want to keep my options open.”

Cabrerea emigrated from the Dominican Republic four years ago, and will be the first in her family to attend college. She is one of over 360 Boston-area students taking advantage of Bottom Line, a JP-based nonprofit that supports high school students applying to college and, in many cases, keeps up with them through their college careers.

Bottom Line has been around for 11 years. It is open to students who are from low-income families, are the first in their family to apply to college, or are first-generation immigrants.

And it has proved remarkably successful.

According to press material, 98 percent of its students are accepted into at least one college, and 80 percent graduate. Nationally about 50 percent of low-income and first generation college applicants enroll in college, and only 7 percent of low-income students and 12 percent of first generation students graduate.

“We sort of fill in the role of a parent who would have been involved,” is how Bottom Line Executive Director Greg Johnson described the program.

In the Access phase of the two-tiered program, counselors help students with the application process, including financial aid, which Cabrerea said was particularly helpful for her.

“I had no clue what to do,” she said, “My parents pay someone to do their taxes.”

The Access program also includes workshops and courses to help students prepare for college life, including a new college writing program being unveiled this year, Johnson said.

The Success program is aimed at supporting students once they are enrolled, he said.

Supporting students through graduation is where Bottom Line has been an innovator, Johnson said. That aspect of the program is even more important than making sure they get into college, Johnson said.

“In some cases, I would say, why keep sending them there?” he said, referring to traditional models for college counseling.

In its early years, Johnson said, Bottom Line would try to keep up with all of its students through graduation. These days, with over 500 students currently enrolled in college thanks to the program, it has limited its college support program to 14 area target schools where it can have the largest effect.

In trying to support students who roamed as far as Georgia, “We found we could talk a good game, but we didn’t have the resources to provide real support,” Johnson said.

Over 40 percent of Bottom Line students attend the target schools, which include the University of Massachusetts campuses in Boston, Dartmouth and Amherst; local schools like Boston University and Suffolk University; and Smith College in Northampton.

In addition to being accessible to Bottom Line counselors, these schools have an “institutional track record of success” with Bottom Line students and high concentrations of students.

“Counselors can help multiple students, so it makes sense in terms of a cost-benefit analysis,” Johnson said.

Although she has applied to a diverse array of schools, “I would love to go to a college that is still connected to Bottom Line,” Cabrerea said.

And, she said, she could see herself returning after graduation to work with Bottom Line.

In the meantime, the program will be expanding, Johnson said.

“We turned away over 100 qualified applicants last year,” he said. And, if current trends hold, there will be over 1,000 students in the program by 2009, he said.

Bottom Line plans to move from its 555 Amory St. office into a larger space in a proposed office development at 500 Amory St., and will soon be opening an office in Worcester, he said.

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