The Access Coalition Story
In 2006 Pine Manor College and the Nellie Mae Education Foundation became partners to bring together a group of Boston area private colleges concerned with access for students from underserved groups and communities who did not have high achievement in high school.
Initially, we sponsored a one-day conference so that these colleges could share information about the ways we each addressed the myriad of issues that such student populations bring to higher education. That initial conference generated such enthusiasm that—again working with the Nellie Mae Education Foundation—Pine Manor College became home to the ACCESS Coalition: a collaborative of small, independent Massachusetts colleges that chose to work together to share information about challenges faced and best practices learned in serving low-income and first-generation-to-college students. Cambridge College, Eastern Nazarene, Elms, Mount Ida, Newbury, Pine Manor, Regis, and Wheelock Colleges share a number of defining characteristics: four-year schools with enrollments of fewer than 2,500 undergraduates; significant populations of low-income and first-generation-to-college students; and an overarching concern for adding value to the lives of students who have yet to realize their promise. In addition, each is committed to maintaining affordability but does not possess a large endowment to underwrite costs.
Access Coalition Programs
The ACCESS Coalition sponsored workshops, meetings, and conferences to encourage information sharing in the areas of teaching and learning, recruitment and retention, business and finance, development, and career services.
Two Coalition-sponsored programs particularly underscored the value that collaboration can have for our institutions and the students we serve. A November 2008 conference addressed The Value of Innovation: Campus-wide Collaboration to Address the High Cost of College. No topic could have been more timely. Expert speakers represented the College Board of New England, American Student Assistance, the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Massachusetts, Jobs for the Future, and the office of Senator Edward M. Kennedy. Together we learned about creative ways to help low-income students during difficult economic times.
In addition, the Coalition hosted a day-long “Conversation” between member colleges and eleven local and national non-profit college access organizations to open a dialogue between these groups dedicated to getting at-risk students into and through college. This program identified challenges faced by students that put them at-risk of abandoning their education and developed a series of recommendations to address those challenges. It was this event that led the members of the ACCESS Coalition to begin to think about a new structure for our organization that would more readily connect participating colleges with other groups sharing our mission and values, especially those working directly with high school students.
The other major event sponsored by the ACCESS Coalition was the Access College Fair, held this past spring. About 150 students and 25 faculty and staff attended on June 12, 2009 at Pine Manor College. Thirteen high schools were well-represented, and fourteen colleges were there to talk about their specific offerings and supports for first generation and low-income students. The fair presented workshops on financial aid, choosing the right college, writing an effective college application essay, and succeeding in college, all delivered by participating colleges. Education professionals who attended from college access organizations and from the high schools themselves said it was a worthwhile event for their students.
The New Access/Success Institute
The ACCESS Coalition has recently evolved into the Access/Success Institute and is now a program of Pine Manor College. The Institute is funded by a grant from the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, in-kind support from Pine Manor College, and occasional fees from participating institutions.