It can be especially hard for students living in remote rural communities to access transportation for college visits, receive information on available scholarships and get answers to financial aid questions. A new service expansion into Madison County will help students more easily find the healthy support system they need as they explore opportunities for a higher education.
Since 1999, On Point for College (OPFC) has made higher education more accessible for youth living in low-income households or non-traditional living environments by supporting them every step along the way – from applications, financial aid and registration to transportation, graduation and entry into the workforce.
“Students are taught to believe that good grades and extracurricular activities are the keys to obtaining a college education. However, those living in rural communities possess these capabilities and yet still find themselves excluded from opportunity and often feel discouraged,” said Kevin Marken, director at Utica OPFC. “We are here to provide support programs that help them overcome barriers.”
According to CNYVitals.org, a 2016 Gallup poll found that there is a strong link between hope and grades, achievement scores, retention and future employment. This means that the more hopeful a student feels about their future, the more engaged and motivated they may be to stay in school, and ultimately graduate. Because many youth living in poverty experience isolation and a lack of resources, OPFC stepped in to fill the gap by expanding its services into Madison County.
We provided a grant to OPFC to support a full-time Advisor position in Madison County. The new staff member will recruit students, assist them with financial aid and college applications, take students on college tours, and provide financial assistance with fees incurred before students receive financial aid.
“Madison County is a more isolated area than some of the other locations we serve in Central New York, so students without cars are unable to get where they need to go for the resources they need,” said Marken. “It was clear there was a need for us to expand to reach additional students outside of our service areas.”
OPFC helps more than 400 students per year begin or return to college degree, certificate, and professional training programs. The organization plans to make connections with 60 students from Madison County with the goal of them enrolling in college or a post-secondary opportunity that leads to a career by Spring 2021.
“Attaining a college degree is a proven pathway out of poverty,” said Marken. “The goal of the project is to empower low-income, first-generation Madison County students to advance their educational dreams through access to post-secondary opportunities, support for success and linkages to good careers.”
Nearly 9,000 students have enrolled in college with OPFC’s help since its inception. More than 90% have been first-generation college students. With its expanded services in Madison County, the organization hopes to help aspiring, lower-income students with overcoming the challenges that can become obstacles to successfully completing a degree.
These services will be targeted toward older youth and adults living in poverty in Madison County who have a high school diploma (or equivalent) but have not completed a college degree or post-secondary credential. The expansion will provide a beacon of hope for some students who may have thought that college was never an option for them. The barriers between students and opportunities are broken by the good work that OPFC provides.
About the Madison County Rural Poverty Fund
The Madison County Rural Poverty Fund is an effort to support poverty-related causes in Madison County, where 11% of the population was living below the federal poverty rate in 2017, according to CNY Vitals.