Q: Tell us a about The College Crusade of Rhode Island and its mission?
Ginestet: The College Crusade prepares and inspires young people to become the first in their families to attend and complete college. Our organization started in 1989, and we support more than 4,000 students each year.
Q: What was the College Crusade proposal that won the $25,000 second prize during the Nov. 12 Nonprofit Innovation Lab pitch contest?
Ginestet: In September, we launched the “Gap” initiative – a model to support students who paused their postsecondary education because of the pandemic. These low-income and first-generation students are most vulnerable to fall into the “gap trap” and are at risk of dropping out of school. With each passing month, these students are losing valuable educational momentum, and there are minimal services to support them. Leveraging the flexibility of our generous funders, the College Crusade’s pilot program supports 100 of these gap students with targeted coaching. Our goal is to help these students get back on track and eventually to bring the initiative to scale so every young person in Rhode Island can access a gap coach.
Q: How much have college enrollment rates fallen in Rhode Island amid the pandemic and what can be done to help get students who are not enrolling to apply to college?
Ginestet: According to the National Student Clearinghouse, Rhode Island saw an 8.1 percent enrollment decline among Rhode Island colleges and universities this fall. However, this decrease is not evenly distributed among student demographics. First-generation students, low-income students, and students of color have seen the steepest declines in enrollment. These students need rapid and targeted support to resume their education as soon as possible. The longer the pause, the more difficult it will be to earn a college degree. This not only negatively affects students and their families but threatens to derail the state’s post-COVID economic recovery.
Q: What are the biggest challenges that Rhode Island students are facing as they try to become the first members of their families to go to college?
Ginestet: First-generation students in Rhode Island face numerous challenges. Finances are certainly at the top of the list. Even before the pandemic, our students struggled to cover all the costs associated with college (tuition, fees, books, transportation, living expenses, etc.). With many students working to support their families, especially during the pandemic, the financial obstacles are even more complex and significant.
Also, student morale is a major concern. From a psychological and risk-taking perspective, our students need to feel optimistic about their chances for success when they decide to embark on a college journey. When students feel hopeful about the future, they are more willing to look at issues from a long-term perspective. The pandemic has really dampened our students’ optimism, and we are working closely with them to bolster resilience and help them refocus on long-term goals.
Q: What kind of help do “gap coaches” provide to students who are struggling to avoid the “gap trap”?