Mentoring makes a difference. Just ask College Now Greater Cleveland, which since 1968 has provided need-based scholarships to thousands of college students. College Now started its mentoring program in 2011. Volunteer mentors with two- or four-year degrees work one-on-one with students receiving College Now scholarships, helping them adjust to college life and stay on track academically.
The first College Now class with mentors graduated on time, in six or fewer years, at a rate of 72 percent.
“It may not sound impressive, but if you look at the national average for Pell Grant-eligible students, they graduate at a 42-percent rate nationally,” says Madeline Rife, College Now’s mentoring program director. “One-hundred percent is the goal, but we are very pleased with the progress we have made.”
College Now has 1,200 volunteer mentors but now needs 900 more. That’s because, due to its success, College Now has been asked to administer the scholarship program, including a mentoring component, for Say Yes to Education, a New York-based initiative that will allow children in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD) to attend college tuition-free.
CMSD is only the fourth school system to adopt the Say Yes model. Cleveland nonprofits and foundations have donated $90 million toward the project, which still needs to raise another $35 million over the next five years.
But Say Yes needs more than money. It requires “wraparound services” that help students achieve success once they reach college. That’s where College Now — which is already a presence in CMSD schools, counseling pupils in financial aid and career choices — will add value.
“We instituted the mentoring program because we noticed supporting students financially didn’t take all the pressure off them,” Rife says. “The mentors provide the one-on-one emotional support we can’t possibly provide with our staff.”
Lee Friedman, CEO of College Now, says mentors make students aware of potential pitfalls and the consequences of their decisions while in college.
“These kids often don’t know how to navigate [the college landscape], and if they come from a family with no college experience, they can feel very disconnected,” Friedman says. “Even for students where the whole family went to college, the experience is new and different.”
The mentoring program isn’t demanding on volunteers, who are matched with students according to common interests. They meet with their students three times a year, email them twice a month and perhaps exchange a few texts in between. Over the years, College Now mentors have helped students find stable housing, change majors and connect to professionals in their fields.
“But the No. 1 thing we hear from students is their mentor cares about them and thinks about them,” Rife says.
Rife understands how people might feel unqualified to mentor. But College Now trains them, and if they need advice, all they have to do is call. Rife adds that about 70 percent of College Now mentors had never mentored before.
“I assure people if they have gone through college and have the desire to connect with a student and listen to them, they will do well,” Rife says. “And we are here to help.”
Anyone interested in mentoring College Now college students can call 216-241-5587 or visit collegenowgc.org.