#DegreesNYC Summit Aims to Clear the Path to College

Keynote speaker Dr. Patricia J. Martin addresses the Summit.

First-generation and low-income students face ever-growing obstacles on the road to a college degree. This week, Goddard Riverside’s Options Center co-hosted a Citywide Summit to make that road a little easier.

The #DegreesNYC gathering, organized with Young Invincibles and GraduateNYC, drew some 140 people from across the education field, including students, counselors, representatives from colleges, elected officials and advocates. In her keynote speech, education consultant Dr. Patricia J. Martin urged every attendee to be a leader in breaking down barriers to college —no matter what their title.

“It’s never about the role, it’s always about the goal. Keep that in mind while we’re working today,” said Martin.

“Never doubt your capacity to figure out what is wrong or right for our children.”

The numbers are stark. More than 75 percent of young people from the wealthiest tier of families get a college degree by age 24; only nine percent from the bottom tier do the same. College costs have more than doubled since 1975, but the maximum federal Pell grant has shrunk slightly. The level of unmet financial needs for the poorest students has also doubled in recent years.

The conference focused on five major areas of effort, culled from meetings #DegreesNYC held in each borough last spring:

  • Creating school and community cultures with high expectations for all —combating the messages many students of color and low-income students get that “college isn’t for you”;
  • Improving the amount and quality of counseling for underrepresented students;
  • Simplifying policies and procedures, such as financial aid paperwork;
  • Expanding financial aid and encouraging colleges to do more to help with costs;
  • Continue improving data collection to track which students are getting counseling and support and whether they are successfully completing college.

#DegreesNYC will take the feedback it gathered at this week’s meeting and use it to work toward a coordinated citywide effort to overcome barriers to higher education. The aim is inspired in part by similar programs in Chicago and Los Angeles.

Amber Peters, founder of a Bronx company that consults on college readiness and success, felt energized and motivated by the day’s activities 

“Everyone wants the same thing for the same population,” she said as the summit drew to a close. “I don’t think that’s happened to me so far in my career.”

For more information, visit the #DegreesNYC website and follow the coalition on Twitter at @DegreesNYC.