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GEAR UP Capacity Building Workshop Strengthens Programs

GEAR UP Capacity Building Conference, Philadelphia, PA February 8-11, 2015


National calls emphasizing the importance of capacity building for sustainable development of grant funded education programs have been numerous.  The U.S. Department of Education in partnership with NCCEP continues to invest time and attention to capacity building for successful programs like GEAR UP.  Since 1999, the importance of these efforts has been embedded in the proposals and goals of NCCEP with support and programming based on continuous feedback, research, and professional best practices.

The February 2015 capacity building workshops were held in Philadelphia, PA the hometown of Congressman Chaka Fattah, the founder of the GEAR UP program.  Full-day training modules were designed based on pre-survey information and input from NCCEP and feedback from GEAR UP directors.  Participants were required to submit a self-assessment questionnaire in advance of the training to introduce them to the learning goals and to ensure maximum effectiveness based on participants responses. Time was provided during the sessions for facilitated networking to encourage building peer networks, deeper learning, and to create connections between programs.


Photo: Congressman Chaka Fattah with Kay Coelho and Brad Trimble

Why Conference Attendance Matters

Whether you are a newcomer to GEAR UP or a seasoned participant, capacity building presents multiple approaches to enlighten, inspire and inform your work.  Many conferences concentrate tremendous efforton the concrete material outcomes and far less on practical, tangible and significant outcomes that do not translate monetarily: the feeling of belonging to a group with shared professional interests and commitment to the work, applicable content knowledge from presentations and vendors, networking and interacting withpeers and experts in the field.  Attending presentations, when there are so many to choose from can be a hit-or-miss adventure.  The value of this experience is unique to each individual which is why NCCEP works hard to fully engage the audience in these conferences.  

“When I was a GEAR UP coordinator, attending conferences gave me more confidence and assurance because I learned that I was doing the right thing in my work and also that I could “step things up” by trying other methods, incorporating technology, and doing more investigating through further research. These simple changes can have a powerful effect on your professional philosophy and practices, often without your being aware of it.  It also serves to remind you of the importance of remaining open to change, being a team player and sharpening your skills.”

Sean Brennan-California GEAR UP

CBW1.jpg-largePhoto: Participants at opening session of the conference

Building Capacity

Education professionals typically use the term capacity in reference to the perceived abilities, skills, and expertise of school leaders, teachers, faculties, and staffs—most commonly when describing the “capacity” of an individual or school to execute or accomplish something specific, such as leading a school-improvement effort or teaching more effectively. The term may also encompass the quality of adaptation—the ability of a school or educator to grow, progress, or improve. Common variations include educator capacity, leadership capacity, school capacity, and teacher capacity, among others.  The impact of this experience is described here by a first time attendee, Kay Coelho:

I am grateful for all that I learned and the connections made at the conference. I believe that the California GEAR UP program… will in many cases have the fortunate opportunity to be the “first” to inspire and motivate youth and communities.  The first to give a member of our communities confidence to understand their individuality, attend a higher education institute and change the course of their life. Be it a young person, a single mother, an only parent, or a community member. We will give an individual their first opportunity to succeed at college and a career.

Overall the Capacity Building Workshop in Philadelphia gave me ideas on how we can collaborate more efficiently together as a team. It gave me insight toward understanding that in order to build a strong team, we need to understand each other’s’ compelling WHY and complement each other. We should work with each other and not against each other, to be the first to inspire and motivate, and change the course of an individual’s future.

Once we understand WHY we do this work, we can explore HOW we do it, create a plan and inspire the compelling WHY for others.

Kay Francesca Coelho-California GEAR UP

California Partnership Initiative (CPI): A Call to Action

“We should be complementary, and not in competition,” said Whole School Services Coach Brad Trimble, during the California Partnership Initiative meeting hosted by California State GEAR UP the first evening of the conference.  According to Shelley Davis, Director of California GEAR UP: “The initiative has been created to formalize the collaboration of the State GEAR UP program and GEAR UP partnership projects.  This statewide effort will strengthen our network and build upon our good work in service to schools, students, families and communities.  We must be intentional about working together to improve school culture and to ensure college and career readiness for all students.”

CPI was designed in response to the national call for GEAR UP programs to operate more co-operatively within regions, to create a support network of professionals with similar work, challenges, and programatic goals. A long standing component of GEAR UP has been innovation and creative program design.

“I feel it is important for the California GEAR UP programs to collaborate because together we can achieve more. We strengthen each other, learn from each other, and provide support for each other. I have 30 years of experience with college access programs, including TRIO, and I know that these programs and the staff who provide direct services would not have been as effective as they are without collaboration and support from other programs staff. We cannot operate in silos. We can create bigger and more lasting change together;  we can influence people, especially policy makers, together.  Ultimately this collaboration will benefit our students, our families, and our State.”

Sue B. Huizinga–Associate Director, Regional Services College OPTIONS/GEAR UP Programs


Photo: Palomar College GEAR UP Team at CPI Meeting

CPI will follow up with plans to meet at the National GEAR UP Conference in July in San Francisco.  For more information on the State GEAR UP programs and GEAR UP partnership projects check out the interactive map on our website at www.castategearup.org

Sessions Designed by and for Attendees

In the true spirit of capacity building, tracks were selected based on the feedback from the 2014 CBW and in direct response to identified needs of GEAR UP program participants.  Ahead of the conference, all registrants responded to a series of questions and surveys that directed the content and format of the available sessions.

The 2015 CBW workshop tracks were as follows: The Directors’ Network, GEAR UP 101, Parent Engagement, Evaluation Showcase, Grant Management, Advancing College Readiness, Strategies for First-Year Post-Secondary Success, The Coordinators’ Catalyst Network, Helping Students Earn College Credit in High School, and Closing Gaps in STEM Learning and Careers.  The CBW also offered five general sessions and several roundtable discussion sessions.

Directors Track

“I was fortunate to co-facilitate a Roundtable session with the program director from Massachusetts GEAR UP, Robert Dais. We chose an open space format that flowed very well as participants discussed common challenges and successes across four areas of our work as State programs. Even though the session was on the last day and just before lunch, the room was full and energy was high with lots of sharing.  We collected ideas from this session that will be shared with NCCEP and with our program in regional events and through the California Partnership Initiative.  We all bring teams from our staffs to this conference and bring back valuable information, tools and ideas, many of which stem from professional connections made with other participants from throughout the country.”

Shelley Davis-California GEAR UP 


Photo:  Participants enjoy networking at the conference

Roundtable discussions are among the most flexible format offered at the conference, and may look quite different from session to session. The one thing that they have in common is that each allows for extended discussion among a small group. Roundtables are excellent venues for giving and receiving targeted feedback, having in-depth discussions, and meeting colleagues with similar interests. Grantees from CA were very impressed with this format and felt the discussion allowed them to gain a deeper understanding of their work while learning from the professionals in the room. Many remarked this was the highlight of the conference as it helped them learn while creating a network that will support them in their work at home.

Materials and other information from the conference sessions are found on the NCCCEP website. 


Middle Grades Alliance Honors Vista Prep Academy


vista cmga


Red Bluff Union Elementary School District superintendent William McCoy and board trustee Adriana Griffin were recognized by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson and the California Middle Grades Alliance (CMGA) on Thursday for modeling effective governance and leadership throughout the transformation of Vista Preparatory Academy.

Vista Preparatory Academy (formerly known as Vista Middle School) has been a California GEAR UP school since 2011. The school was reconstituted in 2013 in order to establish a student-centered learning environment that better supported the educational needs of the Red Bluff community and has been largely successful in this turnaround.

The mission of CMGA is to support high quality middle grades education designed to close achievement gaps and ensure success for all students through increasing public awareness, disseminating research and best practices for the purpose of influencing middle grades policy and informed decision-making at the state and local level. CMGA’s selection process for recognizing and celebrating district leadership focuses on the successful implementation of the California Department of Education’s 12 Recommendations for Middle Grades Success.

Red Bluff Union Elementary School District was specifically recognized for the District’s collaboration with the school leadership team at Vista to promote academic excellence, developmental responsiveness, social equity, and for creating an effective organizational structure where all students can be successful.

The Vista Prep Story

Over the course of three years and with the leadership of a group of committed teachers, administrators, teachers, students, GEAR UP, and community partnerships, Vista Middle School transformed from a failing middle school into a thriving Preparatory Academy. The focus of the transformation: creating a school culture centered around student success as the highest priority. Their story is in progress but the results are already telling.

Let the video tell the story. Shot over three days on location in Red Bluff, CA by Emmy nominated videographer Andy Schlactenhaufen for California GEAR UP.

Special thanks to the Vista Preparatory Academy teachers and community, GEAR UP College Options, and Red Bluff Union Elementary School District.


California GEAR UP: Partnering for Student Success


By Christian Smith – CA GEAR UP Project Coordinator

California GEAR UP: Partnering for Student Success

The CA GEAR UP partnership with the California College Guidance Initiative (CCGI) has had great results during the 2014-2015 school year. By working in collaboration with PIQE (Parent Institute for Quality Education) we now offer GEAR UP middle schools and their feeder high schools on-site training, utilizing Californiacolleges.edu as a tool to engage students and families and help promote a college going culture on campus.  Students will receive a systematic baseline of guidance and support through this technological tool for the college and career planning and preparation process.

With the launch of the new CaliforniaColleges.edu website in January of 2014, we are committed to helping educators and community partners realize the full potential of the new site and the added professional center, a resource that allows educators to communicate, track and review students progress.  CaliforniaColleges.edu has been designed as the one-stop resource for information about higher education in California focusing on students, counselors, and parental user roles. CA GEAR UP is excited to share this tool via trainings on how to best utilize the site with partners like PIQE and CEP (Coalition for Education Partnerships) in addition to several of our 48 middle schools. With more training scheduled through the rest of this year, we are always looking for innovative ways to use technology to promote college and career opportunities.

Over 2/3 of the GEAR UP cohort of 48 middle schools have been trained on the resource, resulting in over 7,000 accounts being created and 64,000 page views on the site.  CA GEAR UP students have been utilizing the Interest Profiler Survey, a Holland Code (RIASEC) Test, to determine careers and vocational choice based upon personality types.  From there the students can link careers to college majors and schools that offer those majors. To help further the conversation with students about careers and goal setting, PIQE has incorporated californiacolleges.edu into workshops 5 and 6 of their family focused curriculum.  Family members are working with their students, reviewing student results and engaged in conversation about students’ interest and future plans.

With more CaliforniaColleges.edu trainings scheduled and PIQE classes on the horizon, this partnership continues to show clear and positive outcomes for schools, families and students.  Check out the new and improved site today at CaliforniaColleges.edu!


Learn more on the California GEAR UP website and follow on Twitter and Facebook.




Latino population grows, so does push for place at universities


(original article found on SacBee website)

When the University of California, Santa Barbara, announced last month that it had been named a Hispanic-Serving Institution, it made a small bit of history.

After a decades-long effort to boost enrollment from underserved communities, the Isla Vista campus became the first member of the elite Association of American Universities, an organization of 62 leading research universities, to reach the HSI designation.

Awarded by the federal government, the status signifies that at least 25 percent of the school’s student body is Latino, making it eligible for new programs and millions of dollars in targeted grants. It also indicates that the work of California’s public university systems to reflect the state’s increasing diversity is paying off.

“It basically says that a top-ranking, national university can be a diverse campus and that adds to its strength,” said Lisa Przekop, director of admissions for UC Santa Barbara. “It sends the word out nationally.”

Becoming a Hispanic-Serving Institution marks a major shift for UC Santa Barbara, long known for its surfers and parties. Przekop remembers her own “panicked feeling” as one of the few Mexican American students when she arrived on campus in 1982.

But Latinos remain vastly underrepresented at the University of California, where four of nine campuses have been designated HSIs, and California State University, where 18 of 23 campuses and the system as a whole have reached the benchmark. While they now comprise more than 46 percent of California high school graduates, only about 22 percent of undergraduates at UC and 35 percent at CSU are Latino.

Advocates argue that the universities must do more to reach the swelling ranks of California’s Latino student population, as a matter of both equity and economics.

“It’s kind of like a rooster taking credit for the sunrise,” said Michele Siqueiros, executive director of the Campaign for College Opportunity. “You can’t sustain the strength of California’s economy if you don’t do a better job of educating our population.”

Expanding the diversity in their student ranks has been a goal for UC and CSU for years.

While acknowledging that the state’s shifting demographics have driven much of the changes in the student body, UC Santa Barbara officials also pointed to numerous outreach efforts: visits to rural high schools and those that have not traditionally submitted many applications, bus tours to the campus, resource guides for ethnic groups, and educational tools for counselors to ensure students fulfill eligibility requirements.

Initiatives are also taking place at the systemwide level. CSU conducts Spanish-language college fairs and parent training programs in the communities near its campuses, sponsors Latino-oriented academic conferences, and produces a bilingual insert about college preparation in the newspaper La Opinión.

UC Davis, where about 19 percent of undergraduates are Latino, recently committed to reaching the Hispanic-Serving Institution benchmark by 2018. It has stepped up recruitment and transfer agreements at community colleges, while working with Latino students as young as kindergarten to get them excited about the possibilities of college.

Sacramento State is just on the cusp of 25 percent and expects to be designated within the year. President Alexander Gonzalez, who previously led Latino enrollment pushes at CSUs in Fresno and San Marcos, is looking forward to seeing a large, destination campus like Sacramento achieve that level of diversity. “For us,” he said, “it’s going to be a real milestone.”

Schools with HSI status can see significant benefits. Federal agencies ranging from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to the National Endowment for the Humanities have awards aimed at Hispanic-Serving Institutions, and $98 million in funding was available through the U.S. Department of Education last year, according to the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, an advocacy group for HSIs.

UC Riverside, which is more than 32 percent Latino, was the first UC campus to be designated, in 2008. Steve Brint, vice provost for undergraduate education, said the university has subsequently been able to attract funding to expand its undergraduate research opportunities and create new student support programs, such as a fellowship for minorities interested in careers in academia.

A $4 million grant from 2008 to 2011, funded by the federal College Cost Reduction and Access Act, supported a project with regional community colleges to ensure science, technology, engineering and mathematics students were well-prepared to transfer to UC Riverside.

Brint added that the HSI status has also helped the campus build good ties with its community and recruit more Latino students.

“We have critical mass of all groups, so students feel quite comfortable,” he said. “They feel it’s a welcoming campus and an inclusive campus.”

Carl Gutiérrez-Jones, the acting dean of undergraduate education at UC Santa Barbara, said the school will now be pursuing grants for programs to help students transition to campus, complete their degrees on time, cut down on attrition and prepare for graduate study.

“The focus is on the Hispanic students, but once those awards arrive, they benefit all students,” he said.

He also hopes the HSI designation will help UC Santa Barbara shake lingering stereotypes.

“If students come to an institution where they feel they belong, their ability to persist and overcome challenges is really assisted,” Gutiérrez-Jones said. “That success feeds on itself.”

Siqueiros is glad to see Latino enrollment increasing, but she won’t be excited until it is proportional to high school graduation in California.

“We’re never going to reach that level, because there’s never going to be enough resources to ensure that information is getting to every student,” she said. “If you don’t change the structure, then you’re not going to have a different result.”

She said California should reconsider the admissions practices of its public universities – whether they turn away too many qualified applicants with their guaranteed admissions cutoffs (the top 9 percent of high school graduates at UC, the top one-third at CSU); whether the academic eligibility requirements are adequate when many high schools don’t see college preparation as part of their role; and whether race should still be banned as a factor in admissions decisions.

A legislative effort to overturn that racial ban by placing a ballot measure before voters stalled last year when Asian American lawmakers, under pressure from constituents, joined Republicans in opposition.

“Colleges could be much more proactive and engaged,” Siqueiros said.

For now, they’re still sorting through the responsibilities of serving California’s rapidly growing Latino student population.

Members of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities will meet this year to discuss their mission as HSIs, according to association chair and CSU San Bernardino President Tomás Morales. He suggested the universities should focus on raising Latinos’ degree attainment and work more to improve their surrounding, often heavily Latino, communities.

“What does it really mean to be a Hispanic-Serving Institution, beyond simply the numerical designation?” he said. “That’s a hard question to answer.”


Why Some Teams Are Smarter Than Others


This is a repost from New York Times Article located here. Occasionally we post interesting articles that pertain to our work in GEAR UP and this one on what makes a successful team is particularly valid for us as we work across the state in our 48 middle schools using the leadership team model. Let us know what you think in the comments section!

ENDLESS meetings that do little but waste everyone’s time. Dysfunctional committees that take two steps back for every one forward. Project teams that engage in wishful groupthinking rather than honest analysis. Everyone who is part of an organization — a company, a nonprofit, a condo board — has experienced these and other pathologies that can occur when human beings try to work together in groups.

But does teamwork have to be a lost cause? Psychologists have been working on the problem for a long time. And for good reason: Nowadays, though we may still idolize the charismatic leader or creative genius, almost every decision of consequence is made by a group. When Facebook’s board of directors establishes a privacy policy, when the C.I.A.’s operatives strike a suspected terrorist hide-out or when a jury decides whether to convict a defendant, what matters is not just the intelligence and wisdom of the individual actors involved. Groups of smart people can make horrible decisions — or great ones.

Psychologists have known for a century that individuals vary in their cognitive ability. But are some groups, like some people, reliably smarter than others?

Working with several colleagues and students, we set out to answer that question. In our first two studies, which we published with Alex Pentland and Nada Hashmi of M.I.T. in 2010 in the journal Science, we grouped 697 volunteer participants into teams of two to five members. Each team worked together to complete a series of short tasks, which were selected to represent the varied kinds of problems that groups are called upon to solve in the real world. One task involved logical analysis, another brainstorming; others emphasized coordination, planning and moral reasoning.

Individual intelligence, as psychologists measure it, is defined by its generality: People with good vocabularies, for instance, also tend to have good math skills, even though we often think of those abilities as distinct. The results of our studies showed that this same kind of general intelligence also exists for teams. On average, the groups that did well on one task did well on the others, too. In other words, some teams were simply smarter than others.

We next tried to define what characteristics distinguished the smarter teams from the rest, and we were a bit surprised by the answers we got. We gave each volunteer an individual I.Q. test, but teams with higher average I.Q.s didn’t score much higher on our collective intelligence tasks than did teams with lower average I.Q.s. Nor did teams with more extroverted people, or teams whose members reported feeling more motivated to contribute to their group’s success.

Instead, the smartest teams were distinguished by three characteristics.

First, their members contributed more equally to the team’s discussions, rather than letting one or two people dominate the group.

Second, their members scored higher on a test called Reading the Mind in the Eyes, which measures how well people can read complex emotional states from images of faces with only the eyes visible.

Finally, teams with more women outperformed teams with more men. Indeed, it appeared that it was not “diversity” (having equal numbers of men and women) that mattered for a team’s intelligence, but simply having more women. This last effect, however, was partly explained by the fact that women, on average, were better at “mindreading” than men.

In a new study that we published with David Engel and Lisa X. Jing of M.I.T. last month in PLoS One, we replicated these earlier findings, but with a twist. We randomly assigned each of 68 teams to complete our collective intelligence test in one of two conditions. Half of the teams worked face to face, like the teams in our earlier studies. The other half worked online, with no ability to see any of their teammates. Online collaboration is on the rise, with tools like Skype, Google Drive and old-fashioned email enabling groups that never meet to execute complex projects. We wanted to see whether groups that worked online would still demonstrate collective intelligence, and whether social ability would matter as much when people communicated purely by typing messages into a browser.

And they did. Online and off, some teams consistently worked smarter than others. More surprisingly, the most important ingredients for a smart team remained constant regardless of its mode of interaction: members who communicated a lot, participated equally and possessed good emotion-reading skills.

This last finding was another surprise. Emotion-reading mattered just as much for the online teams whose members could not see one another as for the teams that worked face to face. What makes teams smart must be not just the ability to read facial expressions, but a more general ability, known as “Theory of Mind,” to consider and keep track of what other people feel, know and believe.

A new science of effective teamwork is vital not only because teams do so many important things in society, but also because so many teams operate over long periods of time, confronting an ever-widening array of tasks and problems that may be much different from the ones they were initially convened to solve. General intelligence, whether in individuals or teams, is especially crucial for explaining who will do best in novel situations or ones that require learning and adaptation to changing circumstances. We hope that understanding what makes groups smart will help organizations and leaders in all fields create and manage teams more effectively.


Sunnymead Middle School Hosts GPA Reward BBQ


For the second consecutive year, California GEAR UP middle school Sunnymead hosted a GPA rewards BBQ for students who earned a 3.0 or higher.

We had 612 students with 3.0 and above for first trimester attend the BBQ!

This is the second year the event was held and the students were very excited and motivated. They enjoyed the food, music, and games played with friends and the DJ.  

This event highlighted college preparedness starts in middle school and our students are aware of the A-g requirements. They need to have the grades for high school graduation and acceptance to college. This is why we do such a big event to reward our students for 3.o and above to acknowledge they are on the right track.

-Karon Woolsey,  6th Grade Math Teacher and GEAR UP Site Contact

California GEAR UP middle schools host events to promote college going culture, understanding of the A-G requirements, and to provide additional resources and support for whole school communities, students and families.

Sunnymead is in it’s 4th year as a California GEAR UP school and is located in Moreno Valley, CA. Check out their GEAR UP page on their website.

Special thanks to Karon for this story!


32 Reasons to Find Your GEAR UP ‘Why’


32 Reasons to Operate From Your Compelling WHY

By Michele Molitor, California GEAR UP Whole School Services Coach, PCC

What gets you out of bed in the morning?

What motivates you to go to work every day – despite the challenges, despite the stress, despite all the other factors that come with being a teacher?

There might be lots of reasons why you Wouldn’t want to be a teacher…

  • Long hours
  • Low pay
  • Screaming kids
  • Difficult parents

Just to name a few… but you do get out of bed and you do go to work every day to be of service to those children.

So what is it that motivates you to do this difficult work?

 What’s your Compelling WHY?

In the 9 years that I’ve been a part of the GEAR UP program working with teachers from all over the state of California, I’ve been able to ask this question of many people.

And while each person has their own variation on a theme based on their life experiences, it boils down to simply wanting to help kids be their best and become thriving adults.

I’ve also seen quite a few teachers who have checked out and who are going through the motions on a day-to-day basis. Doing the minimum that they need to do to collect paycheck and get to their retirement pension. When I see this, it breaks my heart because I know the impact that teacher is having on the students they’re working with.

You see – we have these things called “Mirror Neurons” in our brains that help us sense what’s going on around us and pick up on the emotions and stress of others. And so when a teacher is interested and excited and engaged, the students can FEEL their interest in their work and their care for the students (consciously or unconsciously), and it positively impacts how they (the students) show up and engage with that teacher.

Conversely, when a teacher is disengaged and only going through the motions, the students can sense that as well, creating lack-luster energy and engagement amongst the majority in the classroom.

So how can we get all of our teachers and administrators bringing their best to their work in each day?

Throughout my 14 years of professionally coaching adults, I’ve learned that it’s vitally important to reconnect with your Core Values – those principles and beliefs that drive your daily decisions on how to operate and move through the world. When you consciously strive to bring more of your core values into your work each day, your levels of satisfaction and happiness will go up and your stress levels will go down.

It’s simple biology actually – When you align your daily life, your work, your contributions with your core values, it creates a chemical reaction in your brain – releasing your “Happy Chemicals,” Dopamine, Serotonin, Oxytocin and Endorphins into your system:

  • Dopamine helps us set goals, get things done and incentivizes us to make progress
  • Serotonin boosts your feeling of confidence, making you feel good
  • Oxytocin lowers your cortisol levels, increases your interest in your work and raises your cognitive abilities for problem solving and creative thinking
  • Endorphins help mask the pain as your muscles work through hard labor

When this happens, your experience becomes happier & more balanced which creates an upward spiral of feel good – increasing your positive energy, which leads to increased satisfaction and success.

Now, this doesn’t mean that you won’t have your fair share of challenges and headaches on any given day, BUT, your values will give you a stronger foundation on which to stand which can help temper your reaction to those daily stressors.

You can always use your values as guideposts along the way as well. If you feel yourself getting to far off course from your core values, you can refer back to those values to help get you back on track by reminding you of the things that really matter to you, like those 32 students in your class. When you refocus your daily work and life around the things that deeply matter to you – your Compelling WHY – you’ll be more satisfied.

Those around you will feel it as well – creating positive ripple effects for your students, as you model for them the importance of doing work you love that allows you to live and operate from your values and your compelling Why.


Michele has also served as a facilitator and Whole School Services Coach for California GEAR UP for over 9 years, helping teachers, parents and communities to create a sustainable “College Going Culture” at middle schools around the state. Michele has her Co-Active Professional Certified Coach (CPCC) designation from The Coaches Training Institute and her Professional Certified Coach (PCC) designation from the International Coach Federation. She also holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Advertising and Psychology from University of Florida.

The College Board releases annual report on college prices.



(From The Chronicle of Higher Education)

Rising tuition will be in the news this week with the College Board’s release on Thursday of its two signature reports.

“Trends in College Pricing” and “Trends in Student Aid” are packed with numbers, but if history is any guide, the one thing people will want to know is how much tuition and fees went up this year.

All right, all right, I’ll tell you. Average published tuition and fees rose 2.9 percent for in-state students at public four-year colleges, and 3.7 percent at private nonprofit four-years institutions. You can read the full reports here and explore individual colleges’ prices here.

But tuition is not the whole story. Consider this: The average list price of tuition and fees for in-state students at public four-year colleges in 2014-15 is $9,139. Room and board charges for the same students? Those come to $9,804

Living expenses are an “under discussed” aspect of college affordability, says Zakiya Smith, a strategy director at the Lumina Foundation, who held a private convening of experts to talk about them earlier this fall. Ms. Smith has been pondering living expenses lately, partly because of the handful of new “free college” efforts designed to cover tuition and fees, but nothing more.

Whether and how living expenses should be considered part of the price of college is a matter of some debate. And when it comes to how colleges estimate what students will spend on room, board, and other expenses, and the implications of those estimates, things get really interesting.

Part of the Price Tag?

Everyone agrees that college students must live somewhere, eat something, and have other basic needs met. But is paying for those things part of paying for college?

States often design their financial-aid programs so that the money must go to tuition and fees rather than living expenses, says Debbie Cochrane, research director at the Institute for College Access and Success. The tendency is to trust institutions more than individuals. “There’s this sense,” she says, “if we give it to students, who knows how they’re going to spend it?”

Part of the issue is how students in different situations are typically perceived. “We’ve all heard people express concerns about people taking out loans to live or to pay rent,” Ms. Cochrane says. You don’t hear that when students borrow to live in their college’s dormitory or buy its meal plan.

“Trends in College Pricing” says many living expenses “are not really part of the cost of attending college, but are expenses people face whether or not they are in school.”

Even so, the report does examine them. Why? “Because students tend to think of living expenses as part of the cost of going to college, and because they must come up with the funds to cover these outlays, it is useful to use these expenses as a proxy for forgone earnings.”

In other words, the big expense of going to college is the opportunity cost. Hours spent studying and going to class are hours that can’t be spent working. The report doesn’t try to measure opportunity cost, instead using living expenses as an estimate of what that cost would be.

That approach avoids making “student” a special status. “While we have to make sure that we are supportive of students’ needs to meet their living costs while they’re in school, we have to think about this in the larger context of a society where lots of people face this, students and others,” says Sandy Baum, the report’s lead author.

And there could be unintended consequences of “creating the situation where the only chance is to be a student or otherwise they won’t have the money to live,” adds Ms. Baum, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute and research professor at the George Washington University Graduate School of Education and Human Development.

Public benefits are meant to help people who can’t afford to pay for food, housing, or other basic needs. But getting access to them can be challenging for students, says Amy Ellen Duke-Benfield, a senior policy analyst with the Center for Law and Social Policy. The center is running a pilot project in which community colleges work to help students get the benefits they are eligible for. But maintaining eligibility while enrolled is another issue.

Welfare, for instance, has a work requirement—one that federal law says can be fulfilled for 12 months by full-time postsecondary enrollment, Ms. Duke-Benfield explains. But only a handful of states allow recipients to meet their work requirements that way for more than 12 months. And even within that period, most states make students work at least 20 hours per week to stay eligible—a requirement that can slow or even stop their progress through college.

Whether the support comes from financial aid or public benefits, Ms. Duke-Benfield says, students need more resources. “If we’re serious about the completion agenda,” she says, “that means that we have to care about low-income students. And that means we have to deal with the fact there is an opportunity cost involved for them to go to college.”

That opportunity cost is often underestimated, says Sara Goldrick-Rab, a professor of educational-policy studies and sociology at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Imagine a student who goes from working full time to working part time so he can attend college. Working part time doesn’t just mean working fewer hours. It also usually means lower hourly pay and, in many cases, unpredictable or inflexible hours.

“You experience more than a one-to-one loss for each hour,” she says. Paying for degrees students will be able to actually finish, Ms. Goldrick-Rab says, means supporting their living expenses.

Estimating Cost of Living

The financial-aid system is based on the understanding that students face expenses beyond tuition and fees. Colleges come up with a figure for their cost of attendance—the sum of tuition, fees, room, board, books, and more.

Cost of attendance is an estimate, one that matters for a couple of reasons. First, it is used to determine a student’s financial need (the expected family contribution, the amount that students and their families are deemed able to pay, is subtracted from the cost of attendance to determine need). Second, it’s used to determine a college’s net price as defined by the federal government—an increasingly important metric.

So how do colleges come up with the number? Rick Shipman, director of financial aid at Michigan State University, walked me through his system.

At Michigan State, the amount for “room” is the price of the average double room on the campus. “Board” is a meal plan that provides all-you-can-eat food during dining-hall hours. Mr. Shipman could elect to use different amounts for students who live off campus, but he does not. In East Lansing, Mich., he says, prices are comparable, on campus and off.

After adding tuition, fees, room and board, and books, it gets more complicated. “You get to decide as an institution which things you’re going to count and how to count them,” Mr. Shipman says.

For example, Michigan State’s cost of attendance includes money to cover a bus pass, but not to maintain a car, because there is a good public-transportation system in town.

It’s important that colleges help families understand the cost of attendance, Mr. Shipman says. They should know that the amount budgeted for books is just an estimate. And they could decide not to spend everything the college has included in the budget. “The degree to which you clarify what these things are helps them understand whether that’s something they want to borrow for,” Mr. Shipman says.

What families do with that information largely depends on their finances, Mr. Shipman says. High-income students may well bring a car to the campus and pay for off-campus parking. Lower-income students often work hard to keep their spending in line with the budget the college has come up with.

“It does change the bottom-line notion of what it costs to go to school,” Mr. Shipman says, “if $5,000 is spending money.”

Prices, of course, tend to rise. But increasing the budget for living expenses is no small matter for a college. Increases in tuition are typically paired with increases in financial aid. Increases in living expenses, though, are often simply absorbed by students. So in estimating those costs, colleges must find an amount large enough for students to live on but low enough that it won’t lead them to take on unnecessary debt.

“The reality is also that cost-of-attendance budgets are political,” Ms. Cochrane says. Low-balling living expenses makes a college look more affordable. That matters more now that net prices (the cost of attendance minus average grant aid) are gaining steam as a consumer tool and accountability metric.

Same City, Varying Expenses

It’s clear that different colleges interpret living expenses differently. A quick look at the costs of attendance that various colleges report to the government in the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data Systemshows a great deal of variation in what colleges in the same city budget for housing and food, particularly for students living off campus. The Association of Community College Trustees raised that issue in a letter to the Department of Education detailing its concerns about the proposed college-rating system.

“Until the department gets a grasp on how they adjudicate cost of living, they can’t use net price as the mechanism to be transparent,” says Jee Hang Lee, the association’s vice president for public policy and external relations.

In a recent paper, Ms. Goldrick-Rab and two co-authors examined the relationship between what colleges budget for living expenses and what data in the MIT Living Wage Calculator suggest it costs to live where those colleges are. The researchers found substantial gaps. Instead of allowing colleges to come up with their own cost-of-living budgets, those figures should be standardized, Ms. Goldrick-Rab says. Colleges could still adjust for unusual situations.

Financial-aid administrators are fond of the adage “live like a student now, so you don’t have to later.” But what that means—and how much help students get in making things work—depends on where they enroll.


Obama unveils a new plan for Community College students.





President Obama’s commitment to low and middle-income students was evident during his State of the Union address Tuesday night.  His appeal to the nation included a bold plan to lower the cost of community college attendance to “zero”.  This plan, first announced on January 8th, strives to make the first two years of community college free for students of any age who earn a “C+” average, attend school at least halftime, and are making “steady progress” toward degree completion.  This program would be available at community colleges with academic programs designed to transfer to public four-year colleges and universities.


chart 1


The President’s proposal comes at a time when state higher education funding is at its lowest levels in recent history.  The enduring degradation of per pupil spending is evidenced by College Board’s 2014 Trends in College Pricing report.  Such state spending policy is having the greatest effect on low and middle-income students who can least afford higher education fee and tuition increases.  Since 1985 the inflated-adjusted sticker price of tuition and fees at public two-year community colleges has risen 250%.  As such, President Obama’s plan stands in opposition of this ongoing and problematic trend in higher education.


chart 2

Getting to Know Hudson Middle School

Interview with Hajra Saeed, GEAR UP Site Contact at Hudson Middle School

By Mary Unverferth


What motivated you to volunteer to be the GEAR UP Site Contact at Hudson?

I have always been interested in seeing students grow to their full potential, no matter what their circumstances.  Many middle school students at Hudson never visualized themselves as ever attending college, so when my principal, Cathleen Imbroane, told us about GEAR UP coming to our school, I was very excited.  She asked me if I would like to be the site contact and I accepted because I knew that the goals of GEAR UP were important for our students and that we have a great staff that would jump on board to create a college-going culture at Hudson.

As the Site Contact you have assumed a leadership role with fellow Leadership Team members as well as the faculty and staff.  What has stood out to you as highlights of serving in this role and being the GEAR UP champion/cheerleader at Hudson?

One of the most valuable lessons I have learned is that a college-going culture is not just accidentally created by good people working together.  GEAR UP has taught me that a conscientious effort must be made on a consistent basis to instill the confidence in our students that they have the ability to pursue a post-secondary education.  As a team, we first created a plan to change the mindset of our staff using professional development articles provided by GEAR UP.  Then, we moved on to creating activities for students and parents that would foster the culture we were trying to cultivate.  100% of our middle school teachers participate in the activities with their classes, even though the activities sometimes may interfere with their regular classroom schedules.  I am extremely grateful to have a staff that is both cooperative and enthusiastic.  Another highlight is that more parents are attending workshops, and are thus better informed about how to help their children in school.  We are fortunate to be a K-8 school and can begin fostering the college mindset from a young age.  Having parents attend the PIQE and CEP workshops doesn’t just help the individual students, but empowers entire families.

What has been a challenge that you have encountered as Site Contact and how did you tackle it?

During our Institute in 2014, our Leadership Team discussed that even after 3 years, many staff members still do not really know what GEAR UP was doing at our school.  They were aware that we had a GEAR UP Week in September and that we organized the March Spirit Week every year.  Beyond that they did not have any clear understanding.  So, our Leadership Team worked on a document that listed all of the activities at our school that serve as outreach to parents and help to create a college-going culture.  Then, our facilitator Heather Mills shared that information with each individual middle school department (Humanities, Tech Core, Spanish, Art) at their planning meetings.  Now that they have actually seen everything that GEAR UP does at our school on paper, they have a greater sense of pride as a GEAR UP school and a better understanding of why GEAR UP is so important.

How has participating in California GEAR UP contributed to the college going culture at Hudson?

I am so excited with how much Hudson has changed over the last few years! Students are much more knowledgeable about post-secondary education and they all feel it is within their reach.  During morning announcements, they proudly announce their future major and the college they wish to attend.  They participate competitively in the GEAR UP activities from door contests to college and career fashion shows.  More students wear college gear on Fridays as well.  Before, there were just college pennants hanging up in the classrooms, but now students are able to articulate their future plans and discuss pathways to reach their personal goals.  They also look forward to planned activities, because now that they have participated for the last two years, new traditions have been created at our school.  Students on campus are already buzzing about how they are going to outdo the other classrooms in the college fashion show in February or how they can make their classroom door the best door for the competition.

Teachers also participate more and more enthusiastically in competitions every year.  We have created new traditions at our school, and now teachers are asking in advance about activities planned for spirit week.  For March Madness this year, our teachers have already chosen their colleges, and many of them are already planning for and organizing materials for the door contest that is two months away because they want to have the best door!

And finally, entire families have become empowered.  Parents see that their children have plans beyond high school and they want to learn more about how to facilitate in their children’s education to allow their dreams to materialize.

By giving us planning time to change the culture of our school, GEAR UP has helped us make great changes.  Without the extra time and resources, many of these plans would be difficult to develop and get started.  Also, the professional development offered by GEAR UP has helped the Leadership Team transform Hudson into a college-going culture.

What instructional practices or other activities have been enhanced as a result of team (or personal) learning at Institutes, Forums or other GEAR UP events?

Being an International Baccalaureate school, our staff has always had extra time set aside for collaboration.  However, when we read the articles at the Institutes, we were given tools to change the norms at our school.  Our collaborative norms have changed at our school and our teachers have become better communicators during planning time.  Also, our lunchtime and spirit activities have become more meaningful and worthwhile to staff and students because of GEAR UP Institutes and Forums.  When we attend those events, we have opportunities to learn about what other schools are doing to create a college-going culture.  We have gained fresh, new ideas to incorporate into our existing activities at Hudson.

How do you see your work in the role impacting you personally?

I have learned a lot in this role as site contact.  It has taught me how to effectively work with staff members to create a change in culture.  Also, having the parent component as part of GEAR UP has taught me more strategies on how to engage parents in their children’s learning.  I always look forward to the GEAR UP Leadership Team meetings and trainings because I know that my time will be well spent.  Our team works so well together, and knowing that my time is not wasted on something that doesn’t work makes me look forward to GEAR UP activities.  It gives me sense of purpose beyond just the classroom curriculum guides and pacing charts.


What is the Leadership Team doing to ensure the sustainability of the GEAR UP mindset at Hudson?

Our Leadership Team has strong representatives from each school stakeholder.  They are effective in going back to the groups they represent and sharing information.  Since all staff members participate in GEAR UP activities, there is a greater possibility of sustainability of a college-going culture.  Now that we have college-going activities and traditions in place, the school culture has changed.  These activities will continue to drive the school forward toward its vision of success for all.  This past year our site created a California Junior Scholarship Federation (CJSF) chapter.  This will also perpetuate the GEAR UP mindset because students are aware that their membership in this prestigious organization is something they can add on to their college applications.  So, they are not just talking about college and making plans, but also taking steps to create an academic resume for college applications.

Do you have anything else you would like to add?

I just want to say that I feel so blessed for having such an amazing Leadership Team.  My principal Cathleen Imbroane supports everything we do, and without her we wouldn’t have been able to make the shifts that we have made.  Our facilitator and parent Heather Mills, Language Arts Teacher Alisia Ono, Math Teacher Anastasia Hubbard, and our Counselor Ross Morinaga are always enthusiastic team players.  And on a final note, we could not have asked for a better coach, Mary Unverferth.  She works so hard to guide and coordinate our team’s efforts.  It is a true pleasure to work with them towards creating a college-going culture!  Hudson is a wonderful school and it is an honor to be a part of it.  Go Hawks!



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