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Partner Spotlight: Committing to college during a global pandemic


Steve Colón

Steve Colón

Lucy Kane

Lucy Kane

For the Class of 2021, the last year has looked a little different (to put it mildly). College interviews were held on Zoom, campuses were toured virtually and many of the students we work with at Bottom Line are committing to schools they have never physically set foot on. Despite these ambiguities, hundreds of degree-aspiring Bottom Line students (95% of our students) from low-income and first-generation backgrounds across Boston, Chicago and New York City made their college decisions by May 1.

May 1 is also known as College Signing Day, the day when many college enrollment deposits are due, and when college-bound students make a commitment for the coming fall. May 1st is the day, the months, or even years, of college research, writing and editing personal statements, filling out lengthy admissions and financial aid applications, and then suffering through the dreaded waiting game come to fruition.

For many of our students, the stakes of deciding where to enroll could not be higher. And while the decision is always a difficult one, the added uncertainty and trauma related to the compounding health and economic impacts of the global pandemic have only amplified the pressure.

What students need most at this moment is an authentic relationship with a consistent, caring and knowledgeable support system. That is the heart of Bottom Line’s model.

For nearly 25 years, we have provided each student with a dedicated, skilled advisor who partners with them to get into college, graduate and go far in life. Bottom Line first connects with students at a critical time in their lives, near the end of their high school career, when the many support systems they may have had access to start to fade away. Our team then builds connections and listens. And what we learn enables us to apply our expertise, experience and proven program model to help students find a college where they will thrive academically, receive sufficient financial aid and fit in culturally. Together, we help them successfully gain admission into the right college for them.

Despite the tumult of the last year, we have witnessed surprisingly positive admissibility trends for the Class of 2021. Early Decision (ED), and other binding early admissions plans, were increasingly popular with this class – more than 11% of students in Bottom Line’s New York Region submitted binding early applications, versus only 5% from the previous year. Of our ED applicants, 79% were accepted, with increased acceptance at highly competitive colleges.

One trend that has stayed consistent year to year in our New York region is increased enrollment at public universities in The City University of New York (CUNY). One hundred and twenty-two students (51% of our NY class) will be enrolling at a CUNY for the Fall 2021 semester.

Part of the reason why CUNYs remain popular is affordability. For commuter students receiving maximum federal and state financial aid, they can go to CUNY for $0 out of pocket, without borrowing a penny in student loans, and often receive a refund check to cover other expenses.

Given the economic impacts of the pandemic – approximately 50% of our students have at least one parent who lost their job or had their hours reduced due to COVID-19 – affordability was of paramount importance in the college decision-making process this year.

While these concerns yielded increased enrollment at CUNYs, it led to decreased enrollment at The State University of New York (SUNY). Only 38 students (16% of our class) will be enrolling at SUNYs, which are public institutions located outside of New York City. While SUNY tuition is comparable to that of a CUNY, given their geographic location, Bottom Line students attending SUNYs can’t commute and must pay for room and board. This drives up the cost of attendance significantly. And given the absence of institutional aid at public institutions, students and families are often left with significant bills due, even after student loans have been applied. As such, we saw a record low number of Bottom Line students enrolling at SUNYs this year.

While, as a country, we should continue to celebrate students as they commit to a post-secondary institution, we also need to realize that getting into college is only the first step. As Mary Murphy, associate vice provost for diversity and inclusion at Indiana University, notes, “Too many students get into college, sink years of their lives, and take out thousands of dollars in loans that will follow them the rest of their lives and still never achieve a degree.”

For Bottom Line, that means continuing to partner with students through college to help them earn a degree, limit their debt accrual and build a strong foundation for their careers after graduation.

Steven Colón is the CEO of Bottom Line. Lucy Kane is an Access Team Manager for Bottom Line. Kresge’s Education Program is proud to support Bottom Line’s work through its Urban Pathways to College focus area. Follow Botton Line on Twitter @BottomLineOrg.