If you were aware of all the career opportunities that lay ahead of you when you were in high school, would you have chosen the same path you are on today?
When you have choices, possibilities are endless.
If you do not have choices, success may not be easily attainable.
College Now Greater Cleveland strives to provide options to everyone, from middle schoolers to adult learners so that they may find the best fit to reach their maximum potential and ensure that they are matching to something that will provide a living wage or better.
While obtaining a college education may be the best path for some, College Now knows the traditional journey is not for everyone. Some people may prefer to work a trade; others may need a high-quality certification or two-year degree versus a four-year degree.
Educational paths are different for everyone, but the end goal is always the same for College Now, a nonprofit, which helps people construct plans that will set them up for success, no matter what career they choose.
“Our focus used to be we work with you, and you get to college or get a two-year degree,” College Now CEO Lee Friedman says. “Now, the focus is education to career, whatever that career may be. The plan is helping people think about where they fit into the big regional economy. We get them to think about what their highest aspiration may be, whether it’s becoming a doctor, welder, computer technician or customer service worker.”
Once a person is aware of all of the tools that may be available, they are better able to make informed decisions about their futures.
“A lot of kids don’t know the possibilities available to them,” Friedman says. “Some people fall into their careers, while others plan theirs. No matter what you want to do, we want to provide you with the educational path you need to get to where you want to be.”
With 200 staff members in 87 school buildings and community locations in Northeast Ohio, College Now is guided by its mission to “increase post-secondary education attainment through college and career access advising, financial aid counseling and scholarship and retention services.”
With 21 new and renewed federally funded grants recently awarded to College Now, its programmatic partners and the state of Ohio in fall 2021, college access services are more accessible than ever before for students from low-income backgrounds. In the 2021-2022 fiscal year, College Now will receive $4.1 million from these awards.
Awarded programs include: Nita M. Lowey 21st Century Community Learning Centers, which funds College Now’s after-school programming; Talent Search, which funds college access services for students from low-income backgrounds and first-generation students; Educational Opportunity Center (EOC), which funds programs, services and outreach to support adults’ educational attainment; and GEAR UP State and GEAR UP Partnership programs to improve post-secondary readiness and access.
Another recent endeavor for College Now is the Planning and Career Exploration (PACE) initiative program announced in fall 2021, which is spearheaded by Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD) and the Cleveland Foundation. Other PACE partners include Fund for Our Economic Future, Greater Cleveland Partnership, Junior Achievement of Greater Cleveland, Neighborhood Leadership Institute and Youth Opportunities Unlimited.
The PACE curriculum begins in sixth grade and extends to a student’s senior year in high school. It helps students identify careers or occupations they may want to pursue that match their skills and interests and to develop a plan for after graduation.
College Now’s collaboration with CMSD and Cleveland Foundation have already proven to be successful with the Say Yes Cleveland chapter started in January 2019. Currently, more than 1,000 CMSD graduates from the Classes of 2019 and 2020 are enrolled in college or career training through the Say Yes Cleveland scholarship program. Other partners in the program include city of Cleveland, Cuyahoga County and United Way of Greater Cleveland.
“We are aware when you give kids guidance, they may change their minds, but at least they will have the tools they need and learn something about themselves along the way,” Friedman says.
To help guide students along their way, College Now runs a mentorship program for College Now and Say Yes Cleveland scholarship recipients; it has connected thousands of local students and volunteer mentors in the region over the past 10 years.
When Leean Andino was a senior in 2019 at New Tech West in Cleveland, she was paired with her mentor, Ann Gynn, through the College Now and Say Yes Cleveland program. When she started the program shortly before her high school graduation, she had no idea the positive impact it would have on her life.
Andino is the first four-year college graduate of the Say Yes program in Cleveland. She graduated from Cleveland State University (CSU) in 2021 with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. She is a first-generation college graduate.
“Before I enrolled in Say Yes, going to college was iffy for me for financial reasons,” Andino says. “My dad was talking about getting a second job, and my family wasn’t sure how we would take out student loans.
“The fact that I was able to go to college and not have to worry about the money is the greatest thing that has ever happened in my life. I’m brown, I’m Hispanic, and I come from a low economic background, yet I was able to persevere and get this done. It’s hard work, but it’s doable.”
Currently, the 21-year-old, is enrolled in the Clinical Mental Health Counseling master’s program at CSU. She is a graduate assistant at CSU’s Center for Student Involvement. She plans to be a mentor in the Say Yes program one day.
“You should not be afraid to ask for help,” Andino says when asked for advice she would give to a high school student. “College is not an easy transition. There’s so much involved. It’s a team effort, and if you need a team, College Now is the team that can help get you there. It can set you up with a mentor and help you financially. Just reach out and ask for help. College Now will give you the hand that you need.”