Weaving a Stronger Safety Net

Clark College receives major grant to help low-income students      

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Clark College has received a major grant toward the college’s efforts to help low-income students complete their education. Work is already underway on the three-year Working Families Success Network (WFSN) grant, which provides $100,000 per year to hire staff and equip them to work with students.

WFSN is a program of Achieving the Dream, a partnership of seven nonprofit organizations that has grown to become the largest non-governmental reform movement working in higher education today. Achieving the Dream works at 200 higher education institutions in 34 states and the District of Columbia helping nearly 4 million college students realize greater economic opportunity.

Through the WFSN grant, Clark College will have an opportunity to provide more support to students in the areas of financial literacy, career services and gaining access to public benefits. “One of our goals is to remove the stigma and mystery surrounding some of the public benefits that students may be eligible for,” Armetta Burney, Associate Director of Workforce Education Services, said. She explained that the grant allows the college to hire four part-time coaches to work one-on-one with students, helping them to access resources and manage their finances as they reach for their educational goals.

“We also have an effort underway to help faculty and staff understand how to direct and encourage low-income students,” Burney added. “This is a large issue for the college as a whole, as 47 percent of Clark College students are classified as low-income.” Burney added that there are many ways for faculty and staff to encourage students, but one of the easiest is to share the website www.washingtonconnection.org, which helps students quickly and easily determine their eligibility for public benefits.

The grant parameters state a goal of reaching 25 percent of low-income students with both high- and low-touch services by the end of the three-year grant. High-touch services include one-on-one interactions like financial coaching, career coaching, or assistance with access to public benefits. Low-touch services include workshops, classes and general information on resources and services provided by the college.

“We know that far too many of our students are just one financial crisis away from dropping out of school, and that once they drop out it can be incredibly difficult for them to return,” said Edie Blakley, Director of Career Services. “With this grant, Clark College will be able to help more of these students weave a safety net for themselves that can allow them to stay focused on their long-term goals and create a plan for their financial wellness during and after college”