According to Rhode Island Kids Count’s 2012 report, nearly nine-tenths of Providence Public Schools seniors aspire to attend college, but less than half enroll immediately following graduation. Almost two-thirds of these students identify as Latino, so it’s smart to focus on policies and practices that support their success. “Minding the Gap: Increasing College Persistence in Rhode Island,” a March 2015 report presented by the Providence Children and Youth Cabinet, looks at the state of Latino higher education attainment. While 43% of Rhode Island’s population holds degrees, a rate higher than the national average, only 16% of Rhode Island Latinos have college degrees, a rate below the national average. Given that Latinos make up more than 12% of our state’s population and are our state’s fastest-growing ethnic group, identifying ways for them – particularly those who are economically disadvantaged – to enroll in and complete degree-granting programs at higher rates will prove to be a critical success factor for our state.
“Minding the Gap” reports that our state’s institutions of higher education and community-based organizations are employing a wide variety of practices that promise to support much higher rates of college success among Latinos (and other populations striving for higher education attainment). Among the organizations cited as making a significant difference for students is College Visions, a Providence-based nonprofit founded ten years ago by East Side native Simon Moore. Moore attended Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary School, Nathan Bishop Middle School, Classical High School and then Brown University. “I knew so many people who had the talent to do well in college but didn’t have the support. Having a limited education and finding a stable job that pays a living wage is a tough proposition in Rhode Island’s economic climate,” Moore says.
Moore drew on work as a high school teacher and college advisor to start College Visions, which aims to support low-income and first-generation college-bound students to get into and graduate from college. With College Visions staff members and volunteers, Executive Director Moore works with 400 students from Providence and other urban communities. The program starts with students in the summer before their senior year and supports them through and beyond college graduation, providing frequent and consistent advising, support, information and resources to guide them to choose colleges that are affordable and that provide appropriate conditions for success. Once enrolled in college, students continue to work with College Visions advisors as well as other campus-based resources to chart their courses of study, manage finances and address factors that might otherwise prove to disrupt their paths toward graduation.
College Visions participant Sherly Torres talked about the ways that the College Visions staff members helped students turn their higher education aspirations into reality. “I took control and did it on my own,” says Torres. “I really didn’t know the process, and all through senior year, College Visions helped me figure out where I could go, how to apply and especially how to sort out the financial aid part.” Now enrolled at Rhode Island College, Torres continues to work with Emily Rodriguez, a College Visions staffer based part-time on campus. “My mom is supportive but she can’t help me with this,” Torres says. “Emily helps me keep track of what I am doing in terms of school, finances and figuring out what comes next.”
Local and national recognition has also extended College Visions’ impact. Earlier this year, Moore was one of ten people to be honored by the White House as a Champion of Change. College Visions has produced 190 college graduates and is currently working with 325 enrolled students. Though Simon Moore wants the program to grow, he knows that its success depends on maintaining close relationships among students and advisors. A side benefit is that College Visions students and alumni promote a college-going culture in their communities, creating a positive ripple effect. Candido Moya joined forces with College Visions during his senior year, working through the application and financial aid process to select Brandeis University, which has provided a full scholarship for his course of study. “I learned how to advocate for myself,” says Moya, who is now sharing his experience of applying to and seeking robust financial support for college with younger friends and relatives.
As we plan for an upbeat future and sustained economic expansion for Providence and all of Rhode Island, we are wise to remind ourselves that increasing the number of citizens who earn college degrees will significantly improve our economic ascendance and prolonged vitality. We want this for our young people and they want it for themselves.