Written by Jolene Potter
WILLIMANTIC, CT –The college-readiness nonprofit organization Higher Edge and Eastern Connecticut State University celebrated their ongoing partnership on Oct. 5 with a gala in the Fine Arts Instructional Center. Higher Edge is devoted to assisting low-income and first-generation students through enrollment, retention and graduation from college. To help meet these goals they opened a satellite office on the Eastern campus last October.
Higher Edge utilizes a community-based approach to college access and success in order to ensure that Windham-area students attain the advantages of a higher education. The organization was originally considering a location in downtown Willimantic, but identified Eastern as a prime location to reach as many students as possible. The satellite office is located in Knight House, which happens to be between Windham High School and Windham Technical High School.
Ninety-five percent of Higher Edge students come from racial and ethnic backgrounds; 90 percent are first-generation college students; and more than half come from single-parent households. Ninety-eight percent of Higher Edge students enroll in college directly following high school graduation – they attend Eastern more than any other college.
“Eastern has been a powerful support system for Higher Edge,” said Gilbert Bonafé, director of the Higher Edge satellite office. “Eastern has repeatedly helped us engage with the community and meet our goals of access and success in higher education for our students.”
The Higher Edge approach is two-pronged: helping students to navigate the college application process and financial aid paperwork (Access); and supporting them academically through graduation (Success). The College Access Program (CAP) is the first step toward putting students on the path to success. Through one-on-one advising, students learn to navigate the application process. Together, advisors and students work to identify academic interests and potential careers, participate in personalized SAT preparation, craft and polish application essays, and complete applications for colleges, financial aid and scholarships.
“As a first-generation college student I did not know where to start in terms of applying for college,” said Windham High School senior Ailin Cuevas-Gonzalez. “The individually focused assistance and mentoring has helped me through every step of applying for college, particularly with my college essay. I am hoping to major in engineering or environmental science.”
“If it wasn’t for this program I would be lost,” said Windham High School senior Yeni Lopez. “Gilbert has been a huge help with my college essay, FAFSA and my application. Higher Edge is committed to helping us. My dream is to become a pediatric nurse.”
The help for Higher Edge students does not stop after they are admitted to college. Higher Edge has worked with Eastern to support students continually throughout their education with the Success Program, which supports students who completed the College Access Program and have enrolled in college. Students are advised and mentored on their campuses for up to six years, with a continued focuses on academic, financial and career guidance.
“Completing CAP and continuing in the Success Program at Eastern is the best decision I have ever made,” said Eastern student and first-year social work major Luzmerry Llanos. “I was the first person in my family to graduate from high school and Higher Edge helped me through every step of getting to college. I am thankful for the continued time, energy and help from the Success Program. I want to work with individuals with special needs and I have a lot of opportunities to do that here.”
“I can always count on Higher Edge for continued guidance and support,” said junior social work major Elizabeth Rodriguez. “Whenever I am unsure what to do I can still count on them to help me make an action plan to accomplish my goal of becoming a licensed clinical social worker.”