ELYRIA — A 47-year-old mother of five from Lorain, LePreece Thomas spent the first part of her career in a corporate job.
After developing an interest in the engineering lessons one of her children was taking, she applied to go back to school at Lorain County Community College.
Dorisa Johnson, 22, of Lorain, once was homeless. No member of her family had even a high school diploma or equivalent, much less a college degree.
Another Lorain resident, 22-year-old Allyssa Earl, didn’t have a car and couldn’t easily get to the Elyria campus for classes.
The second of 14 children in a Sheffield Lake family and home-schooled by his mother, 20-year-old Zack McConnon originally said: “Nah, I don’t want to go to college,” he recalled Wednesday.
All four were the kind of students LCCC wants to serve and to see succeed, college officials said Wednesday. But all four had barriers to furthering their education, whether because of finances, transportation or a lack of commitment.
So in 2014, LCCC partnered with Cincinnati State Technical and Cuyahoga Community College to address the needs of low-income or nontraditional students.
The partnership used a modified version of the City University of New York’s Accelerated Study in Associate Programs effort, or ASAP. That program required students to enroll full-time, but it also provided them with the financial, academic and support services they needed to complete their degrees.
LCCC renamed its version of the program SAIL, which stands for “Students Accelerating in Learning,” and launched it in 2015 to help low-income and nontraditional college students succeed.
Multiple philanthropic organizations, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, assisted. Student success also was tracked by the nonprofit research firm MDRC.
Some adjustments to SAIL not included in the ASAP program were gasoline cards given to LCCC students. Their counterparts at CUNY received New York Transit MetroCards, which can cost as much as $100 a month and might be a cost students have trouble bearing.
The results? Two-year graduation rates for students enrolled in the ASAP-based programs at the three community colleges in the study more than doubled, from 7.9 percent to 19.1 percent, according to MDRC and LCCC.
The study found that “many students would go to school full-time with more supports in place,” said Colleen Sommo, a senior research associate with MDRC told those gathered at Wednesday’s event. Summer enrollment also increased and students enrolled in the program were ahead of their peers by eight college credits after two years in the program.
The cost worked out to an estimated $2,300 per student for the entire program. Sommo said the estimated cost of administering the program is expected to decrease over time.
“This program can be successful for various students,” Sommo said.
LCCC President Marcia Ballinger called it “very exciting to look at LCCC’s results” from the program, which she called “laser-focused” on student success.
Adding that the program was pushed from 150 students to 215 students due to overwhelming interest, she said she hoped LCCC would have “1,000 students in this program” within five years.
A guest in the audience for the event was Ohio Department of Higher Education Chancellor John Carey. Calling the program “excellent” and saying he was “really pleased,” he congratulated Ballinger and her students and staff for the success story they shared Wednesday.
“What we learned here, we can take back to Columbus,” he said. “The intensive support is what’s needed on every campus.”
Johnson earned an associates degree in medical assisting in May, now works part time on campus and also is working part time toward a bachelor’s degree and a certificate in business administration. SAIL “pushes you” to succeed, she said.
McConnon changed his mind about college when he decided to become an elementary school teacher. He and his sister enrolled in SAIL and received financial assistance with gasoline and textbooks, and he now is on his way to a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education at Ashland University.
Thomas now is employed as a full-time project coordinator in cryogenics and operations management at the NASA Glenn Research Center on Brookpark Road in Cleveland.
Acceptance into SAIL was “like a weight off,” she said. “I’m so grateful.”
“I’m glad the program got us where we need to be,” said Earl, who took classes in person and online until she could buy a car and took her credits to Cleveland State University, graduating this year with a degree in psychology. “Without it, I wouldn’t be a graduate today.”