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Higher Edge Opens Satellite Office at Eastern

Published on September 21, 2016

Higher Edge Opens Satellite Office at Eastern

The New London-based nonprofit organization Higher Edge and Eastern Connecticut State University celebrated a milestone in their partnership on Sept. 19, when Higher Edge opened a satellite office on the Eastern campus. The college access- and success-focused organization will support aspiring college students from underserved populations in the Windham area.


“We’re in the business of getting students to and through college,” said Chris Soto, founding director of Higher Edge, which guides low-income and first-generation students from enrollment to graduation by providing one-on-one advising and support.

“There are barriers in front of our students,” added Soto, acknowledging the many challenges that first-generation and low-income students face. “Eastern has been a tremendous partner, understanding the needs of our students.”

More Higher Edge students attend Eastern than any other college. Currently there are 30 Higher Edge students enrolled at Eastern. When Higher Edge started in 2010, three students went to Eastern; last year 11 enrolled; and this year 15 more chose Eastern.

“When we do campus tours, our students can see themselves here,” said Soto. “But what keeps them here is the amazing staff connecting those dots — student affairs, admissions, academic advising — all these awesome people making sure no one is slipping through the cracks.”

The satellite location is in the Knight House on Eastern’s main campus, strategically found between Windham High School and Windham Technical High School. Originally, Higher Edge was considering downtown Willimantic, but identified the prime location at Eastern to reach as many students as possible.

“We’re honored they chose us,” said Eastern President Elsa Núñez. “Higher Edge is particularly important to the Hispanic community, and in Willimantic, the need is tremendous.” She added that in New London, “only 16 percent of high school graduates finish college; in Willimantic, only 10 percent finish.”

“The worst place to be is high debt with no degree,” said Congressman Joe Courtney, who represents both Windham and New London counties. “College completion gets to the heart of the challenge.”

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). Gilbert Bonafe, director of the new Higher Edge office, mentioned how his job is also two-pronged: “To help students through the complex process that is gaining college access, and to work together with the community to achieve our shared goals.”

The expansion of Higher Edge would not have been possible without a substantial grant from the Jeffrey P. Ossen Family Foundation. “We’re committed to the underserved population in Windham,” said Eileen Ossen, executive director. “I’ve come to the conclusion that education is the best tool for improving lives.” With this enhanced partnership on the Eastern campus, she affirmed, “We’re going to change the lives of the underserved in Windham.”

Written by Michael Rouleau

Categories: Academics