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Columbus City Schools students succeed at Otterbein

Columbus City Schools students succeed at Otterbein

“Our commitment is to keep excellence and opportunity affordable for all families whose students stand to benefit from Otterbein’s transformational education. Big opportunities should never mean big debt.”

Those are the words of Otterbein President Kathy Krendl, a first generation college graduate who became the University’s first female president in 2009. She was raised on a farm and funded her own higher education through hard work and resilience, so she made it her mission to renew Otterbein’s commitment to access and affordability for students from all backgrounds.

The outcome of this commitment is incredible: a 94 percent success rate at Otterbein for first-year students from Columbus City Schools, making them the highest performing student cohort on campus.

“Access without success isn’t really access,” said Jefferson Blackburn-Smith, vice president for enrollment management. “Our commitment was not to bring CCS students to campus, but to create a program that would allow them to take full advantage of the life-transforming opportunities available at Otterbein, from living on campus, to engaging in student organizations to developing close and meaningful relationships with faculty in and out of the classroom.”

To support this, Otterbein has established outreach efforts in central Ohio through its enhanced need-based financial aid program, as well as participating in the state’s Senior to Sophomores program. The new financial aid model began with 28 entering Columbus City Schools (CCS) students in 2014, an increase from only six CCS students entering the year before and because of its success, has recently expanded to Southwest City, Westerville City and Whitehall City schools. Currently, there are 92 CCS students enrolled at Otterbein.

The goal of the enhanced need-based financial aid model is to make it possible for academically qualified students in under-served districts to attend Otterbein through a combination of federal aid, Otterbein grants and scholarships, and limited family contributions. The program is designed to keep student borrowing at a minimum. Students are also offered additional supports through mentorship opportunities, living-learning communities and academic support, including an early entry orientation program before school begins.

The model has allowed 84 CCS students to enroll at Otterbein since 2014, and once they are here, they stay. The current retention rate of 94 percent for CCS students who entered in 2015 is up from 62 percent for CCS students who entered in 2012 and higher than the retention rate for the entering class as a whole. Of the new students who enrolled in fall 2016, 40 percent are first-generation college students and 64 percent are federal Pell grant eligible. The Pell grant helps students living in poverty to pay for college.

Part of that success is due to Otterbein’s strong support programs, including a program that works with underrepresented student populations on transitioning to college and staying in college, and Otterbein’s “cohort” approach to supporting the students from CCS. A team meets every term to review each student, their progress, and make sure they are connecting somewhere on campus.

Students also can seek assistance from the Center for Student Success, the Office of Social Justice and Activism and the Promise House resource pantry, among other campus resources.

The Seniors to Sophomores program allows high school seniors to take college classes while in high school and to enter college as sophomores. Currently, Otterbein has three Seniors to Sophomores students; in previous years Otterbein has supported one or two students. All of the students in the program to date have chosen to become degree-seeking students at Otterbein.

“Otterbein was one of first partners to sign on with the district to provide the Seniors to Sophomores program. I think that speaks volumes to how Otterbein was ahead of the game,” said Tanya McClanahan, the higher education partnerships supervisor for CCS.

“Otterbein also has the highest percentage of students in the Seniors to Sophomores program who decided to stay after they graduated from high school,” she added. “From their feedback, I know it is due to the support they are receiving on campus. Their grades show they are performing very well, and they are learning that they can be successful at college. They can test the waters without incurring debt; those who attend full-time can save a full year of college tuition.”

Junior Chris Salyer is a CCS graduate from Whetstone High School. Salyer entered his first year as a sophomore because of the credits he was able to apply from taking higher-level college courses while in high school. He now is a triple major in political science, global studies and women’s, gender and sexuality studies. He says the transition from Whetstone to Otterbein was very smooth, thanks in large part to the resources available to him on campus.

“Otterbein has so many resources to help students learn where their passions are and how to apply them. The Center for Student Success, the Academic Support Center and so many people helped me determine what I truly wanted to study. I’ve had numerous opportunities to be a part of multiple student organizations and hands-on learning experiences that I would not have had if I chose to attend another school,” Salyer said.

Otterbein also hosted a new summer program in 2016 called Bridge to College where CCS rising seniors took two classes on Otterbein’s campus. Two of those students stayed to take classes this fall and the program will be offered again in June 2017.

These outreach efforts benefits all Otterbein students, as the CCS students and graduates bring a unique perspective to the classroom and campus activities. They contribute to a diverse and inclusive campus environment.

“Otterbein is the higher education partner that comes to the table with an idea and provides the support and collaboration for that idea to be realized,” said McClanahan. “They are interested in benefitting our students and are willing to provide the additional resources to make it happen.”

Some of the CCS students attending Otterbein were also supported by I Know I Can. Otterbein President Kathy Krendl sits on the non-profit organization’s board of trustees, and Otterbein hosts a college retention counselor on campus weekly.  Otterbein also funds a full-tuition Founders Scholarship with them.