City Colleges of Chicago’s (CCC) partnership with One Million Degrees (OMD) will begin at Malcolm X College this fall, providing students at the college dedicated support towards academic and career success.
CCC’s partnership with the community college student success organization comes in the form of a four-year pilot program, which began last academic year at another CCC school, Olive-Harvey College.
The multimillion-dollar program provides “holistic wrap-around support model,” said Aneesh Sohoni, CEO of OMD. It includes support for academic and non-academic challenges via an OMD program coordinator; life skills training; a mentor; and financial support up to $1,000 a year for students who meet expectations.
“It’s the availability of all these supports that a student can tap into in a way that makes sense for them,” said Sohoni. “That is the power of what we do. It creates real community around a student. And it creates real hope for a student.”
The financial assistance portion of the program works partially as a retention tool by helping students through financial emergencies and needs that might prompt them to drop out, Sohoni said.
And the mentor is there to give advice, wisdom, and encouragement, said Sohoni and Malcom X President David A. Sanders.
“Sometimes there is a lack of confidence because they’re not familiar with the material,” said Sanders, who was previously a mentor with OMD himself. “But our job as a mentor was to ensure that they knew that we would be there behind them, pushing them, encouraging them, making sure that they knew we had confidence in their ability to achieve that objective. Many times, that’s what students need in order to be successful.”
Working with OMD has improved retention rates for participating students to approximately 85%, Sanders said. And according to The University of Chicago’s Inclusive Economy Lab, students who applied to the OMD program before enrolling were 70% more likely to enroll in college, 94% more likely to remain enrolled, and 73% more likely to earn a degree within three years and move directly into the workforce or pursue a four-year degree.
“As we’re looking for additional tools and opportunities to increase the persistence, retention, and completion rate for our students, we are always welcoming new ideas and new opportunities to expand that and provide additional opportunities for our students to be able to complete their education journey,” said Sanders. “And as we evaluated OMD, we just strongly felt that this was a tremendous opportunity to give students what is absolutely essential for them to be successful.”
Students are automatically enrolled into the program when they apply to CCC schools, a practice that began with Olive-Harvey, Sohoni said.
The program was funded by more than $20 million across a number of organizations, including CCC; the Pritzker Foundation; OMD; PwC Charitable Foundation; Crown Family Philanthropies; A Better Chicago; the Finnegan Family Foundation; and JPMorgan Chase.
The goal is for the pilot program to expand to an additional CCC school each year, Sohoni said.
“Our hope and aspiration over time is to get to all seven,” Sohoni said. “At the same time, we’re also really thinking through where is the right place to go. One thing we’re thinking through is which of the colleges are serving the highest percentage and number of Black and Latino students and highest number of first-generation students. The whole vision behind this partnership is to be supportive of City Colleges’ goal to eliminate equity gaps.”