To Increase Persistence Rates, the Peer Mentor Model Includes Assistance with FAFSA, Time Management Strategies, Study Skills, Course Selection, Exam Prep, and Work/School/Family Balance

(HARTFORD, CT) — Student 5.0, a virtual college/career transition planning program for class of ‘20 high school graduates, is now offering support to help those students adjust to and persist in college. 

According to Shannon Marimón, executive director at ReadyCT, the education nonprofit operating Student 5.0, the program has been responsive to students’ needs by shifting from initially supporting the students’ post-secondary planning and access to what students need to be successful in their first semester of college, and beyond. 

“When the pandemic hit in March, a lot of seniors left their K-12 experience unceremoniously and without the benefit of a fully formed post-secondary plan despite the best efforts of our K-12 educators,” said Marimón. “Those final weeks and months of high school position students for this critical life transition.

“For the class of ‘20 graduates who are now first-year college students, their planning efforts were upended, and their counselors and teachers didn’t have the full opportunity to equip them with strategies to navigate higher education and career planning. Student 5.0 aims to fill those voids.” 

Expanding the program to support the college experience is driven in part by the success of early cohorts. Menen Walker, a class of ‘20 high school graduate and Student 5.0 participant, was forced to shift her post-graduation plans when COVID-19 struck. 

Student 5.0 made that possible.

“I was thinking a lot about the military after high school,” said Walker, “but that really couldn’t happen with the virus. So when I had to rethink things, and I heard that Student 5.0 could help me enroll in college even at a late date, that was great.

“I really did enjoy the program, I had an awesome peer mentor, and now I’m in college and have a plan to succeed there.”

Walker’s peer mentor, Effrin Ellison, says most program participants come to him excited about creating a future plan but do not know what to do in a COVID-19 climate. And that’s where he comes in.

“These young people come into the program with ideas, but they’re often overwhelmed by challenges and don’t know where to start knocking them down,” he said. “These grads have a ton of potential, and when we wade through the difficulties and make them manageable, the next thing you know a participant like Menen is enrolled in college with a specific rationale for majoring in business. It’s pretty incredible.”  

A key partner in the effort is CSCU, the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities system. The vast majority of college students enrolling in Student 5.0 attend one of the state’s 12 community colleges. At a time when community college enrollment is down across the state, Student 5.0 for College-Enrolled Students serves as an antidote for enrollment and persistence challenges. 

“Our community colleges offer a quality education,” said Alison Buckley, vice president for enrollment management at CSCU, “and our partnership with Student 5.0 is expected to play a significant role in our students getting that education, particularly with the peer-to-peer coaching. A first-year college student being coached by a young adult who has a shared experience can be just what that first-year student needs to persist into the next semester.” 

In order to persist, every year a student must complete a new FAFSA form, a federal financial assessment that is needed to secure annual financial aid awards. According to Debra Rosado, a college and career coordinator at Crosby High School in Waterbury, for first-year college students, Student 5.0 technical support for FAFSA could be a persistence lifeline. 

“FAFSA, while providing students with access to financial support to attend college, can be an involved process, particularly for students who may be the first in their family to attend,” said Rosado. “Giving a first-year college student access to a peer mentor for help is huge, and Student 5.0 has provided that help for our graduates.”

With the looming possibility of pandemic-related K-12 school building closures, the Connecticut State Department of Education (CSDE), another key program partner, is hopeful that Student 5.0 will reach into the class of ‘21.

“This school year will continue to pose challenges for students navigating the college process. The continued operation of Student 5.0 will likely be critical to some of our most vulnerable students across Connecticut in leveraging college opportunities,” said Chris Soto, director of innovation and partnerships at the CSDE. “We know that this past year community college enrollment was down about 15%, and lack of access to college transition planning, including help with FAFSA forms, is at least partly responsible for that dip. Student 5.0’s peer mentors who can provide technical guidance with college application materials like FAFSA will go a long way to ensuring every student has the chance to pursue higher education, despite these uncertain times.”

Student 5.0 has been operating since June, and as a statewide program it has successfully guided students from across the state into college; for a smaller number of students, the program has provided a pathway to quality career options. The statewide reach of the program is made possible through funding from 4-CT (a 501c3 established to help Connecticut combat the impact of COVID-19), and through affiliation with additional organizations, including CONNTAC, Higher Heights, Waterbury Bridge to Success, the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents, Junior Achievement of Southwest New England, Achieve Hartford, and CT Students for a Dream.

To learn more about Student 5.0, visit readyCT.org.