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Access student, Amari Holmes, announces her college decision with Access Manager, Monica Cohen at Bottom Line Chicago’s second annual Star Party.

Improving College Graduation Rates with Individualized Counseling

Chicago Public Schools’ high school graduation rates are on the rise. That’s the good news. However, only 18% of ninth graders in Chicago Public Schools (CPS) will earn a bachelor’s degrees by the time they are 25, despite over 72% of CPS ninth graders aspiring to attain a college degree.

Given the importance of college advising on match and fit, the recommended counselor to high school student ratio is 1:250.  In Chicago Public Schools, the ratio not only is slightly less—1:303—but college advising is only a small portion of high school counselors’ responsibilities. Schools in the highest need communities tend to have much larger counselor to student ratio, in some cases nearly 1:500.

CFP’s Holistic Supports portfolio focuses on supporting efforts to ensure college readiness, access and persistence for Chicago students. The overarching goals are to address students’ needs for individualized counseling and encourage entry and success in the best fit college and careers.

Bottom Line is an example of an organization meeting these needs. Bottom Line’s programs provide low-income, first-generation college students with intensive one-on-one advising and personalized support from college application through graduation.  Full-time, trained counselors target each individual student’s strengths and identify areas where assistance is needed. The program model is comprised of two components: College Access and College Success. College Access counselors provide high school seniors with one-on-one guidance, navigating students through assembling target college lists, writing essays and personal statements, securing financial aid and ultimately, making a thoughtful college choice. Last year, 97% of College Access students in Chicago enrolled in college with 93% matriculating to a 4 year institution (as compared to 43% of all CPS students who enrolled in a 4 year college or university).  Beginning the summer before a student’s first year of college, College Success provides support for first-generation, low-income students as they transition to and through college to help position them for a successful career. Similar to the Access Program, students receive high-touch, personalized support tailored to their specific challenges and individual strengths.  Each Success counselor manages a caseload of 80 students and regularly evaluates each student’s progress and performance in order to tailor an individualized service plan for each students using Bottom Line’s innovative DEAL model. The “DEAL” model was developed to address the four key areas that lead many first-generation students to struggle and ultimately drop-out: Degree (Academics), Employability (Career-readiness), Affordability (Financial Aid), and Life.  Success counselors work with students, assisting them in selecting a major, developing effective study strategies, connecting with an array of resources and addressing any concerns with financial aid, internships and jobs.

This fall, Bottom Line will be serving more than 1,000 students from over 100 CPS high schools. To date, 91% of Chicago Bottom Line participants have persisted to their sophomore year of college, as compared to 45% of CPS students with similar academic backgrounds. CFP’s multi-year support has enabled Bottom Line to scale to meet the growing demand for its program and reduce the size of its student wait list.  Last year over 1,250 Chicago students applied for 390 program spots.  By 2020, Bottom Line-Chicago’s strategic growth plan has it serving more than 2,000 students annually across the city.

Through support of organizations that understand and address the needs of low-income and first-generation college students and the systemic issues that often hamper their success, CFP is helping to improve academic and career opportunities for thousands of students across Chicago. Innovative, personalized counseling combined with high quality advising and connections to appropriate resources, helps to ensure that more CPS high school students are equipped with the knowledge and resources needed to enroll and graduate from college ready to enter the workforce and begin their careers.  

Sources: https://toandthrough.uchicago.edu/tool/cps/2016/details/#/college-persistence; https://uei.uchicago.edu/topics/High-School-and-College-Success; https://www.schoolcounselor.org/press; http://cps.edu/News/Press_releases/Pages/PR1_09_05_2016.aspx