In a library in Philadelphia’s Fairhill neighborhood, Cathey White patiently guides a mother and her college-bound daughter through the lengthy and often confusing FAFSA, the federal form required for most types of college financial aid. The mother hasn’t completed her taxes yet—one requirement of the FAFSA—so White offers to schedule a second appointment and suggests someplace the family can have their taxes done for free.
White is part of Connect2College (C2C), a new outreach project of the Mayor’s Office of Education’s PhillyGoes2College project that provides Philadelphians with the information they need to pursue a college education. C2C launched in October 2014, three days before the nonprofit College Access and Success Center at the Gallery closed its doors after 22 years. It was a loss, says White, who managed that center, but also an opportunity to reimagine how to best help residents on the path to college: “With C2C, we can reach more people in their neighborhoods.”
“We want to meet people where they are,” echoes Sayeh Hormozi of the Mayor’s Office of Education. For C2C, that means looking at options in addition to partnerships with libraries and other community centers citywide. “We asked: How can we reach people who can’t or won’t come to a brick and mortar location?” Hormozi says. The 21st-century answer: using everyday technology in smart, innovative ways to increase the reach of C2C.
C2C offers three different options to access college information. For those who prefer to access college information online, C2C has a comprehensive website offering tips on preparing for, applying to and affording college. For those most comfortable using use their cell phones or who do not have a smartphone or computer access, C2C offers an interactive text message system that guides users to the existing resources that will be most helpful to them. And for those who want one-on-one guidance, C2C works with libraries, KEYSPOT computer access sites and community centers, providing training and resources to partner staff to answer common college questions. (White is available by appointment for more complex queries.) Along SEPTA’s subway lines, bright blue and yellow signs advertise the many new options for Philadelphians considering college. “Some people have questions about completing the FAFSA. Some people have questions about getting their GED. We want to help people at every step along the way to college,” explains Leana Cabral, also of the Mayor’s Office of Education.
Each student has a unique situation and his or her own preferences for receiving information, says White, who fields questions from teenagers who will be the first in their family to attend college as well as from adults who are returning to the classroom. “We can provide people with reliable resources to help them make realistic decisions, the best decisions for themselves,” says White. “We want them not just to enter college, but to graduate.”
To learn more, text YES to 215-458-5892 or click here to visit the C2C website.