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Higher ed compact is national model, speaker says

The Higher Education Compact of Greater Cleveland, which helps CMSD students get to college and stay there, is a leader in its field, a New York college administrator says.

“What you have done together is a model and a best practice for the nation,” Michael Baston, vice president and assistant provost at New York's LaGuardia Community College, told the audience Wednesday at the compact’s fourth annual symposium.

Mayor Frank G. Jackson and others formed the compact in 2011. The group is a collaboration between the city, CMSD, 18 colleges and universities, College Now Greater Cleveland and a host of other agencies and funders.

The compact works to broaden college access – for example, with an annual campaign encouraging students to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. The group also publishes an annual report on students’ college readiness and the numbers who enroll in college and graduate.

Earlier this year, the compact and CMSD piloted a program that helped 700 to 800 students in six high schools complete about 3,500 college applications.

The Indianapolis-based Lumina Foundation has awarded the compact $200,000 to devise strategies that help students persevere in college until they graduate. Cleveland is one of 75 cities where the foundation has funded such programs.

The compact's “best practices” symposium was expected to draw nearly 300 college and community representatives to Cleveland State University’s Wolstein Center.

Also in the audience was Dakota Pawlicki, the Chicago public schools’ director of strategic partnerships and projects. He said the Higher Education Compact of Greater Cleveland served as a model for a similar organization that the Chicago schools launched in January.

Chicago is trying to perfect the broad-based community support that the Cleveland compact enjoys, Pawlicki said. He also is impressed by the clear message that Cleveland’s group conveys to the public.

“There’s no question as to what you guys are trying to do with the compact,” he said during a break.

CMSD’s graduation rate has reached a record 64.3 percent, and data shows that fewer graduates require remedial work in college.

But the numbers of graduates filing the federal aid form and enrolling in college have dipped, according to the compact’s most recent report, published in March.

Baston said communities have to create “holistic” support systems that help students not only with tuition and fees but also with indirect costs such as room and board, childcare, transportation and other basic necessities.

Slightly more than half the students LaGuardia Community College, part of the City University of New York system, receive no help paying $5,000 in tuition and fees, Baston said. They also face indirect costs that the college estimates run $11,700 for students who live with their parents and $24,000 who are on their own.
Many LaGuardia students withdraw because of mortgage payments, family crises and other factors, Baston said. He said LaGuardia has increased the number who return by establishing a “single-stop” center for services such as benefits information, financial counseling, tax preparation and legal advice.

“If we don’t build an infrastructure around students, as brilliant as they may be, it becomes difficult for them to stay,” Baston said.

CMSD Chief Executive Officer Eric Gordon helped open the symposium by outlining progress made under The Cleveland Plan, a customized blueprint for education reform in the city.

He said getting a college or other postsecondary education is critical in Cleveland, which after Detroit has the second highest rate of child poverty in the United States.

“If poverty is the lock,” Gordon said, “education is the only key.”