UMBC receives Collaborative Opportunity Grant to launch college access program with Baltimore City high schools

The Choice Program at UMBC has received a $50,000 Collaborative Opportunity Grant to launch The Path Before Me, an initiative designed to increase the number of Baltimore City Public School students who are ready to enroll and succeed in college degree programs.

UMBC is one of 12 public institutions nationwide selected to receive such a grant from the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) and Coalition of Urban Serving Universities (USU), supported with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. These new grants support programs to boost student success through advancing university-community partnerships.

UMBC’s Choice Program has long been recognized as a national model in providing community-based, family-centered case management for youth. For nearly 30 years, the program has provided 24/7 wrap-around support and job training, reaching over 20,000 youth from Maryland’s highest risk communities. The Path Before Me seeks to build on this strength in community engagement to support greater community empowerment, with youth active in shaping the direction of the program in their own schools.

The project will work with a cohort of 40 students (20 juniors, 20 seniors) from Baltimore City high schools. So far, Ben Franklin High School and Baltimore Polytechnic Institute have joined in the partnership. It will provide exposure to the college experience, mentoring, SAT preparation, and support for the admissions and matriculation processes in a way that responds to how students express their own college readiness needs.

UMBC works with Baltimore City high school students through a number of different programs, including the Choice Program, based in UMBC’s Shriver Center, as well as more recently launched initiatives, like the Sherman STEM Teacher Scholar Program. Through these partnerships, a core group of high school students is emerging voicing an interest in expanding college access as a matter of both social justice and personal opportunity. In addition to supporting these students’ college preparedness, The Path Before Me will work to articulate and grow a culture of service-learning and social justice within partner high schools, taking the lead from students on what social justice means in their communities.

“The aim of this grant fits perfectly with existing pathways we are creating between Baltimore City Schools and UMBC, and its potential impact is far reaching,” explains Eric Ford, director of operations for The Choice Program. “The success of social justice movements,” he suggests, “hinges on providing transformational experiences to young people from underserved communities.”

Beyond impacting the particular students involved in the program, The Path Before Me will also enable UMBC to critically examine university processes and services, working to ensure equitable and sustainable pathways for Baltimore City high school students to enroll in UMBC and successfully earn their degrees.

In awarding UMBC a Collaborative Opportunity Grant, the APLU and USU recognize the university’s deep and sustained commitment to Baltimore, and to creating innovative approaches to boosting student success.

“The public universities receiving these grants have undertaken efforts that represent a sea change in the way we think about student success,” says Shari Garmise, vice president of APLU’s Office of Urban Initiatives and Executive Director of USU. “For decades, institutions have applied a nearly singular focus on addressing academic hurdles students face once they’re enrolled. These institutions are saying that isn’t enough. We have to work with community partners to ensure students have the required resources to apply, the necessary instruction to be prepared for the rigor of college coursework, and the tools they need to thrive in the workforce and drive positive change in their communities.”

In July, representatives of all 12 universities awarded grants, including UMBC, will convene in Washington, D.C. to strategize and collaborate on their initiatives. As the programs move forward, USU and APLU will share key findings to expand their benefits to additional universities, in the form of new partnership models and best practices.

Update (6/27/2017):  

The Choice Program at UMBC has just received a three-year commitment of $40,000 annually in AmeriCorps funding from the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), the federal agency for volunteering and service programs. These funds will support the work of 50 AmeriCorps members through the Choice Community Service Learning Fellowship beginning this fall. UMBC’s 50 Choice AmeriCorps Fellows will also each be eligible to receive a $5,730 educational award at the end of each year of their service, for a total of $286,500 in educational awards granted to Choice fellows annually (up to $859,500 over three years). CNCS has invested in The Choice Program since its inception in 1994.

Additionally, The Annie E. Casey Foundation has selected The Choice Program to receive $150,000 in grant funding for work to support East Baltimore residents as they gain skills and credentials for employment. Choice is one of five nonprofit workforce initiatives to receive these funds, which total $700,000.

Header image: Choice Program participant Daesha Johnson at an event celebrating the launch of a new job training site for participants in The Choice Program. Photo by Marlayna Demond ’11 for UMBC.