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Boosting Post-secondary and Career Success

October 22, 2014

Boosting Post-secondary and Career Success

October 22, 2014

Residents of Cleveland's Central Promise Neighborhood face barriers to higher ed access.  Two-generation approaches targeted to serve whole families, and a restoration of Ohio College Opportunity Grant funding for two-year college students can help.

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A two-generation approach for the Promise Neighborhood

Hannah Halbert

The Cleveland Central Promise Neighborhood (CCPN) initiative brings together Central neighborhood residents, community stakeholders and partners to create the kind of community where every child can have career and college success.[1] Helping children achieve a bright future filled with opportunity is the cornerstone of the Promise Initiative.

The majority of residents in the CCPN are African American (91 percent) and approximately half are under the age of 18. Nearly all of the households are headed by women (91 percent).[2] Household income is low and poverty is high. The median household income for the neighborhood is only $10,239.[3] In 2013, almost 80 percent of Central’s population received Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits – food assistance – to help feed their families, exceeding the 53 percent rate for Cleveland.[4] Central has been largely cut out of economic expansion and recession recovery. Area schools have a history of segregation and willful neglect that left neighborhood children with few paths out of generational poverty.[5]

Even so, Central is resilient and is home to many community assets. Central hosts a network of social service organizations and community development organizations. The CCPN has partnered with anchor institutions, including universities, financial institutions, and health centers to strengthen neighborhood resources and well-being. In this report, we identify strategies the state and local partners could use to eliminate structural barriers to post-secondary and career success.

Where are the opportunities?

The CCPN is dedicated to creating a community where every child can have post-secondary opportunity and career success. Unfortunately, too few neighborhood students are enrolling in post-secondary education. Of those who do, very few are completing a degree. In fact, only about half (52 percent) of students living in Central who graduated from CMSD schools in 2005 enrolled in post-secondary education, and none had received a degree within five years.[6]

The path to post-secondary education is not just broken for students but for their parents as well. Figure 1 shows levels of educational attainment for working-aged adults in the Central neighborhood.


Of adults in the neighborhood, slightly more than a third (34 percent) hold just a high school or equivalent degree. More than a quarter lack a high school diploma or equivalent (28 percent), and too many are stuck with some college experience but no degree (25 percent). Very few (13 percent) have attained an associate’s degree or higher.

It’s clear that far too many adults are trying to make it without any post-secondary education. It is also apparent that too many are stuck at the lowest levels of attainment, lacking even a high school credential. When compared to the city of Cleveland, and Cuyahoga County, additional divergences emerge. Figure 2 compares these areas.

Educational attainment rates are low across the board. Even in the broadest population (the county) only 36 percent possess an associate’s degree or higher. In the city, the share holding a post-secondary credential falls to 20 percent. In the Promise Neighborhood that rate is cut nearly in half with only 13 percent having such a credential. Between one fourth and one fifth of residents of all three areas began but did not complete college or community college.

The share of the population that has some college experience but did not complete a degree is about the same across each geography. About one third or so of county, city and neighborhood residents have a high school degree only. This suggests that there are shared challenges to post-secondary retention for students across the area.

Finally, a staggering 28 percent of neighborhood residents have no high school degree or equivalent,  more than double the rate for the county as a whole. Many adults in the neighborhood have not reached the first rung on the ladder to higher education. Lack of a high school degree is a significant barrier to employment and financial security. Further, children of mothers without this most basic credential are twice as likely to be in special education and 1.4 times more likely to repeat kindergarten or first grade.[7]

The education pipeline in the Central neighborhood is broken for children and for their parents. Too many students are falling out before they can reach even a basic measure of post-secondary achievement. Too many of their parents are trying to establish family stability without a high school diploma, and of those that have attempted post-secondary education and training, too many were stymied in completing their degree. Creating opportunities for parents while serving Promise kids is critical to boosting achievement and solidifying a college-going culture in Central.

Moms Matter

Family stability and social connectedness set the stage for student success. But programs that support early development and school-readiness focus on parenting skills and address parents primarily as facilitators of the child’s development. Similarly, programing designed to boost family income by connecting adults to work only address children as obstacles to work or training. This is despite the fact that parents’ educational attainment is the best predictor of children’s economic mobility. While intensive, holistic support is needed to overcome generational and historical obstacles to opportunity, programs designed to address the family unit are not the norm.[8]

Mothers are particularly important partners in children’s success. There is a strong, well-documented link between maternal education and children’s academic readiness and achievement.[9] Positive correlations between mother’s education and child well-being, school outcomes, and cognitive development have been replicated across many studies. Research indicates that increased maternal education directly improves a child’s home learning environment and parent-child connectedness.[10] Higher educational attainment is also indirectly linked to increased family earnings and income, bringing increased stability and likely decreasing home stress.[11] Moms are doubly important in the CCPN as nearly all of the households are headed by women (91 percent).[12] 

The multi-generational approach generates opportunity for mother and child and fosters a culture of mutual motivation.[13] Workforce programs employing a two-generation approach have found that participating mothers who were motivated to return to school fortheir kids also became more involved in their child’s learning, reinforcing the family commitment to education.[14] Improving educational outcomes for children sets the stage for parental success as well. Table 1 shows the broader conceptual framework for two-generation strategies and lists the potential outcomes of linking services for kids with training and career opportunities for their parents.

Using a two-generation approach to connect Promise parents to programs targeting GED completion and supporting retention in higher education will generate educational achievement for both parent and child. Addressing these particular challenges to post-secondary success while delivering services to kids can improve short- and long-term outcomes for the entire family unit. Better outcomes are possible for CCPN residents and better pathways out of poverty can be built for Central students, if supportive programing addresses the interconnectedness of child success and whole-family stability. 

Education infrastructure

There is a wide array of existing programing that serve adults looking to improve their skills and boost their educational attainment. Education programs can be public, meaning they are owned by the state. They can be private, nonprofit organizations. Some are proprietary, meaning the program is operated as a private for-profit. Training can be long term and result in a 2-year associate’s or a 4-year bachelor’s degree; or short term, leading to a credential or certificate. Still others look much more like on-the-job training programs, or apprenticeships. The variety of options, even outside questions of quality and program of study, is dizzying.  Yet even with so many offerings out there, low-income students can face challenges to higher education access.

Ohio has a world-class higher education system. While four-year institutions offer many programs to help more traditional students access and complete their education, Ohio’s community colleges and branch institutions serve as a bridge to higher education for many and are the backbone of Ohio’s workforce training system, offering career connected short (6-10 weeks) and longer-term (2-year) programs. Community colleges also offer Adult Basic Literacy Education (ABLE) and GED preparation that can help adults and nontraditional learners build the foundational skills needed for future work and training success.

Ohio’s public community college system reaches every county in the state and brings opportunity to the doorstep of nearly all Ohioans. The Promise Neighborhood is within walking distance of Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C). Tri-C has shorter-term training programs and a variety of educational pathways for nontraditional adult learners.[15]

Existing options at Tri-C would address both groups of trapped Central parents – those needing a GED or remedial education and those with some college experience seeking to complete a credential. Tri-C offers GED and bridge courses to help adult learners overcome barriers to post-secondary enrollment and success. Tri-C is home to the Construction Apprenticeship Program and Steelworker for the Future, programs that link vocational training to industry-recognized credentials. These programs provide customized training for skilled trades.[16] They use integrated curricula, which links academics with on-the-job skill training. Students also have the opportunity to earn an income while they complete training, making these educational pathways more affordable for adult, head-of-household students.

The campus also offers non-degree courses of study to help adult learners get oriented and better understand their skills and training options. Tri-C’s Women in Transition is a free eight-week program designed to help women build self-esteem and identify career interests and skills. These programs can help Promise parents build a career and training pathway that covers pre-GED prep through a two-year degree.

The Promise Neighborhood has an existing partnership with Cleveland State University but is not currently partnered with Tri-C.[17] Thepartnership with CSU offers many benefits to neighborhood residents. It creates an accessible pathway into education beyond college for future CSU graduates. It exposes residents and their children to the medical field, and promote STEM education and career planning. But the programing is largely focused on kids, with adults serving as outreach ambassadors, encouragers, and program advisors. The programs are not intended for adult residents trying to complete a GED or finish a post-secondary credential.

Building partnerships is only one piece of the attainment puzzle. Ohio’s community college system presents challenges to the most diligent student. Ohio’s public 2-year colleges have very low completion rates. In 2010, only 5.2 percent of students graduated on time and 13.3 percent of students graduated within six years.[18] These rates place Ohioeighth worst in the nation for on time completion.[19] Tri-C fares slightly worse than the state average, with only a sliver of students (3.4 percent) graduating on time, and 3.8 percent graduating within 6 years.[20]

Community college students are more likely to be nontraditional students andmore likely to be maintaining their own household.[21] These students face additional burdens to completing their degree. Ohio is working to improve completion rates across all institutions and has instituted a performance based funding model to incite action to improve completion rates statewide.[22] This creates a moment for innovative partnerships at the institutional level that help identify students with barriers and connect them to wrap-around services such as system navigators, childcare, and transportation. The Board of Regents is also hosting a working group of the state legislature to examine the state’s financial aid policy, opening up a real opportunity for reform. 

Eliminating hurdles: state strategies

The state has a policy role to play in helping Ohioans, including Promise residents, access post-secondary education opportunities. Adults have a particularly difficult path to reach higher levels of educational attainment. Ohio is 42nd in the nation, in terms of the number of prime-age adults who hold only a high schools diploma (31 percent).  Only 7.7 percent of this population is currently enrolled in a post-secondary institution.[23] Nearly half (49.2 percent), of Ohio’s working poor families are headed by parents with no post-secondary education.[24]

The cost of post-secondary education, the potential pitfalls of the student loan system, and the personal time and resource burden of managing work, school, and family often pose barriers to degree completion.. Ohio can tip the balance of these competing demands towards education by increasing need-based financial aid.

Post-secondary education can be expensive. In 2013-14, the average tuition and fee schedule at Ohio’s two-year public schools was $4,362, four-year public schools tuition and fees averaged $9,906, and private, non-profit, four-year schools stood at $30,420.[25] In 2009, the poorest families in the state spent about 20.9 percent of their income just to pay tuition and fees at community colleges.[26]

Ohio has seen small increases in tuition and fees over the last five years. Two-year, public institutions saw the largest increase among Ohio’s sectors. Unfortunately Ohio’s institutions are already pricy. Even with the ongoing tuition cap the cost of attending is more than what many prospective students can afford. Table 2 shows how each of Ohio’s sectors ranks in terms of 2013-14 tuition and fee costs.

Table 3 shows how these they have changed since 2012-13 and 2008-09, and how Ohio’s five-year price change ranks among states.

The cost of higher education is particularly steep for someone maintaining a household on a poverty-level income. The prospective student not only must cover direct costs of attendance but often the cost and complications of arranging and purchasing childcare, transportation, housing and food for a family.[27] For example, according to Tri-C’s Net Price Calculator, a single student with one non-college aged dependent earning less than $30,000 per year would need an additional $2,136 beyond grant aid to cover expenses.[28] The estimate includes an extremely modest $930 for “other expenses,” such as transportation, childcare, and emergencies.[29] Table 4 shows the estimated net price breakdown.

The price gap for a four-year public institution is even greater.[30] The existing financial aid system is inadequate. To close the gap students may pick up additional hours at work, which jeopardizes their success as students, or take out loans, which can be risky and expensive, particularly for low-income nontraditional students.  

The neediest students used to have an additional option, the Ohio College Opportunity Grant (OCOG). OCOG is the only state source of need-based grant aid. The grant helps supplement federal financial aid to make post-secondary education more affordable. OCOG currently provides a range of maximum awards depending on the institutions. Since 2009, students enrolling in two-year public institutions are no longer eligible for the grant. For students at private, nonprofit schools OCOG can award $2,568, enough to cover the net price gap of our hypothetical community college student. OCOG is also available for students at public four-year institutions. Those attending proprietary, for-profit institutions are even eligible for $744.

Allowing students at community colleges to participate in OCOG would be a step in the right direction, for CCPN residents and for the state. An investment of $84 million would fully restore OCOG to its pre-recession level of funding. Eligibility could be expanded to students at 2-year public intuitions with a $20 million investment.

Creating opportunity: two-generation partnerships in the neighborhood

Bridge programs, accelerated and stackable credentials, integrated training modules, and industry recognized in-demand credentials are only effective if students can get and stay in. To achieve this, many CCPN residents have to balance the responsibilities of being a parent, a sole provider, and a student. Many are starting from a point of having little to no support network to draw upon. CCPN could help tip this balance toward education by partnering with post-secondary institutions and workforce development organizations to reduce some information and financial barriers.

Building a college-going culture requires a multi-generational approach. Addressing both parental and children’s education reinforces positive outcomes across the family. The neighborhood is already addressing children and parents as facilitators of proper child development and achievement. A range of activities could help broaden the initiative’s reach to include CCPN parents.

Inviting post-secondary partners to share information about available career pathway programs while parents are engaging and investing in their child’s academic success reinforces the importance of education for both. Providing classes or information about job training, financial aid, and career counseling for parents while their children are engaged in programs helps build toward a two-generation approach. Asking neighboring institutions to designate staff to assist Promise parents in exploring careers and transitioning into a training program would be a more intensive but beneficial step toward a comprehensive two-generation strategy.

A starting point could be engaging Tri-C, for example, to identify a staff person who could help Promise parents explore the career-connected training pathways embedded in the institution and navigate the financial aid system. This would be a powerful way CCPN could create opportunities for post-secondary and career success across the whole family unit.

A fully integrated two-generation strategy would include partnering with the broader workforce development system. The CareerAdvance Program in Tulsa Oklahoma started after the project’s director noticed that parents of children in their daycare program had no clear plans after dropping off their children.[31] The program now provides sector-based training in Registered Nursing or Health Information Technology and emphasizes skill development in career-track jobs. The program also teaches supplemental basic skills and provides college readiness assistance.[32]

Towards Employment’s WorkAdvance program, located in Cleveland, offers many services similar to the CareerAdvance model.[33]WorkAdvance helps unemployed low-wage adults increase their employment and earnings. The program works with employers in healthcare and manufacturing to develop training, and offers scholarships for training, career coaching, advancement workshops, and supportive services at no cost. Towards Employment provides workforce development services to people in transition. The program serves people who are trying to get back into the workforce after leaving public assistance, prison, or homelessness. Both programs provide wrap-around services to help adults succeed.

Building a more holistic program could start with expanding existing partnerships and forging new relationships with neighboring training institutions but also with workforce development organizations. Creating a targeted outreach program, and designating an institutional staff person to help residents navigate enrollment, application, financial aid, and the local job market would build a framework that could help eliminate information barriers for residents. A more comprehensive partnership could set aside seats for neighborhood parents and include dual tracking of outcomes for the parent and child to help determine the full impact of the two-generation approach.

With no action, there is little to protect the gains made from CCPN’s investment in early childhood development. Whole family economic stability will provide the greatest insurance for CCPN’s investment in kids. Engaging CCPN kids but also enrolling their parents in programs that support college and career success would help build a culture of learning across the family that stays with the child and secures long-term success.

Moving families forward

A two-generation approach can be implemented on many levels: policy, programs, and research. All have three standard components:

  • Education: post-secondary and workforce training for adults and quality early childhood and K-12 education for kids;

  • Economic supports: wrap-around services to build a bridge out of poverty. Programs have included housing, transportation, financial education and assistance, student financial aid, and food assistance;

  • Social capital: building on mutual motivation, two-generation strategies use peer-to-peer coaching, opportunities to connect with family, neighbors, and cohorts for program delivery to support a culture that expects educational success.[34]

The CCPN is rich with community assets and potential partnerships that could be leveraged to launch successful kids. The neighborhood is near educational anchor institutions: Cleveland State University and Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C). Residents utilize economic support services. Both housing assistance and SNAP programs include funding set asides for recipient education and workforce development and both CSU and Tri-C have programing to help low-skill adults obtain credentials. Nearby training specialists and workforce intermediaries can help develop pathways to education and careers for parents while parents invest in their children’s future success.

The Promise Initiative is building multiple layers of opportunity to improve children’s development opportunities and schools, while engaging in community building. What’s missing is a link between existing resources, a workforce development strategy, and broader state support for low-income students. Forging partnerships to fill this gap could reinforce and protect CCPN's investment in kids.  Reviving state funded need-based aid would help reduce the gap for low-income residents seeking training. 


To learn more about navigating Ohio’s higher education landscape, and what resources can help, see Boosting post-secondary and career success: Resources to help set your course.

This report was made possible by the generous support of the Sisters of Charity Foundation and the Working Poor Families Project.

[1] The neighborhood is a section of Cleveland’s Central neighborhood, from Euclid Avenue to Woodland Avenue, and from East 22nd to East 55th streets, encompassing 1.3 miles and a population of over 10,000 people. See, Cleveland Central Promise Neighborhood at for map of neighborhood boundaries and detailed information on the initiative.

[2] Statistics from The Center on Urban Poverty and Community Development, Case Western University for the Promise Initiative, using 2010 estimates.

[3] Id.

[4] Id., all2013 figures.

[5]See, Promise Neighborhood, The Schools, available at

[6] The Promise Neighborhood, 2014 Strategic Plan, Feb. 2014, using data from the National Clearinghouse.

[7] Katherine A. Magnuson and Sharon M. McGroder, The Effect of Increasing Welfare Mothers’ Education on their Young Children’s Academic Problems and School Readiness, University of Wisconsin, Institute on Research on Poverty, Discussion paper, 2003, available at


[8] Anne Mosle and Nisha Patel, Two Generations, One Future: Moving Parents and Children Beyond Poverty Together, TheAspen Institute, Retrieved from ascend at The Aspen Institute’s Ascend project lists two, two-generation programs operating in Ohio.

[9]Id., citing Katherine A. Magnuson and Sharon M. McGroder, supra at note 7.

[10] Katherine A. Magnuson and Sharon M. McGroder, supra at note 7.


[12]Statistics from The Center on Urban Poverty and Community Development, supra at note 2.

[13] Anne Mosle and Nisha Patel, supra at note 8, p. 11.


[15] Cleveland State University (CSU) is also near the neighborhood. CSU offers several bridge-to-college programs that are primarily geared toward traditional students entering or exploring CSU while in high school. Cleveland State University, Pre-College Programs, available at, accessed August 28, 2014. 69 percent of undergraduates at CSU are under the age of 24, suggesting that the school serves a more traditional student population.

[16]See, Construction Apprenticeship Program at Tri-C, available at, accessed August 26, 2014. The Construction Apprenticeship Program offers a stackable set of credentials, students can continue in the program and earn a two-year degree in applied sciences, or a four-year degree in technology management or construction management through Kent State and the University of Akron. Steelworker for the Future is an employer driven training program. Tri-C partners with ArcelorMittal to deliver targeted, employer recognized training in high-skill electrical and mechanical industries. The program offers two degree tracks, electrical and mechanical technology. Students do a work-study program with the employer partner and receive up to 16 weeks of on-site paid training.

[17]With CSU, CCPN serves as an outreach partner and advisor to the NEOMED project. The project brings together the Northeast Ohio Medical University (NEOMED) and CSU to offer two training pathways that link pre-medical and medical students to the communities they will serve post-residency. The program reserves 35 seats at NEOMED’s college of medicine for participating CSU students, offers two program paths that link future physicians to urban health initiatives, and offers in-neighborhood programing encouraging middle and high school students to pursue healthcare careers and STEM education. CCPN is also a neighborhood partner for CSU’s Central Neighborhood Alliance, a civic engagement partnership that supports projects between CSU faculty and the CCPN to encourage mutual learning and community well-being. See, Northeast Ohio Medical University, NEOMED-CSU Partnership for Urban Health, available at, accessed August 26, 2014.

[18] The Chronicle of Higher Education, College Completion, Ohio public colleges, available at, using 2010 data from the National Center for Education Statistics’ Integrated Post Secondary Education System.

[19] The Chronicle of Higher Education, College Completion, Cuyahoga County Community College, available at


[21]See, Hannah Halbert, Blocking the College Door, Policy Matters Ohio, fig. 2, March 2014, available at

[22]See, Ohio Higher Ed, College Completion Ohio, at

[23] Working Poor Families Project, analysis by Population Reference Bureau of 2012 American Community Survey. Prime age workers are between ages 25 and 54.

[24] Working Poor Families Project, Population Reference Bureau, analysis of 2012 American Community Survey. “Working poor family” is a family with a combined work effort of 39 or more weeks in the last 12 months, or all family members age 15 and over having a combined effort of 26 or more weeks and one currently unemployed parent actively seeking employment. “Poor” is a family with income below the threshold of poverty used by the U.S. Census Bureau.

[25] College Board, Annual Survey of Colleges, Tuition and Fees by Sector and State over Time, available at, accessed August 28, 2014. Covers published in-state tuition and fees, in 2013 Dollars.

[26] Working Poor Families Project, National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, 2009, at “Poorest families” include those in the median family income in the lowest quintile (bottom 10 percent of families). 2009 most recent year posted.

[27] Childcare is a particularly challenging barrier faced by working student parents. Families with income around 200 percent of poverty, transitioning out of into better paying jobs would need at least a 10 percent pay raise to compensate for the loss of subsidized childcare. Initial eligibility for public childcare assistance in Ohio is 125 percent of the federal poverty level. One of the lowest initial eligibility thresholds among the states. Policy Matters Ohio has recommended additional strategies to improve public childcare assistance in Ohio, including: increase the income ceiling, accept children for 12 month enrollments, regardless of family income or employment changes, allow providers to presume edibility to speed assistance, and increase the income level for initial eligibility. See, Wendy Patton, “Ohio’s childcare cliffs, canyons and cracks, Policy Matters Ohio, May 2014, available at  

[28] Tri-C Net Price Calculator, 2012-2013, available at, most current available at time of publication.

[29] The Family Budget Calculator estimates that a single parent with one child in the Cleveland area would require $480 for transportation, $902 for health care, $581 for child care, and $284 for other necessities, a total of $2,247 per month in living costs. The calculator measures the income a family needs in order to maintain a secure but modest living standard, using community specific costs. The budget is updated for 2013. See Economic Policy Institute, Family Budget Calculator, available at, accessed September 4, 2014.

[30]The CSU net price estimator showed a gap of more than $18,000 after applying more than $6,000 in grant aid to the tab. Cleveland State University, Net Price Calculator, available at, accessed August 28, 2014. The estimate is based on a hypothetical student, age 23, single, with one dependent, with less than $30,000 in income, living off campus.

[31] Anne Mosle and Nisha Patel, supra at note 8.

[32] Tara C. Smith, Rachel V. Douglas, Robert W. Glover, “The Evolution of the CareerAdvance Program in Tulsa, Oklahoma,” Ray Marshall Center for the Study of Human Resources, prepared for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, October 2012, available at, accessed August 28, 2014.

[33]See, Towards Employment at and WorkAdvance at, accessed August 28, 2014. 

[34] Anne Mosle and Nisha Patel, supra at note 6, p. 16, outlining key components of two-generation strategies.


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