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New Research: Financial support and coaching improves persistence and graduation rates for community college students by 86%

September 12, 2023


Blake Case
(601) 832-6079

San Francisco, Calif., Sept. 12, 2023—Today, United Way Bay Area (UWBA) released new, quantitative research finding that its SparkPoint program measurably improves student persistence and advancement compared to students not receiving support through the innovative program. According to the independent study of more than 10,000 students enrolled across San Mateo County Community College District campuses from 2018-2019, students who participated in SparkPoint were 127% more likely to remain enrolled in college. In the 2019-2020 school year, SparkPoint students were 86% more likely to not only continue their education program but also successfully earn their degrees or transfer to a four-year college.

SparkPoint is a cornerstone in United Way Bay Area’s poverty-fighting efforts where students work one-on-one with free financial coaches to reach their financial and career goals while ensuring they are able to meet basic food and housing needs essential to staying enrolled in college. The vast majority of community college students served by SparkPoint were female, represented communities of color, received financial aid, and had a median age of 22 years old.

During each of the four years the study was conducted, students receiving Sparkpoint services had a success rate that was 5-9 percentage points higher than students not participating in SparkPoint. Student success was defined as persistence (i.e., retention from fall semester to spring semester) and student advancement (i.e., graduating and/or transferring out). The research — conducted by research firm Public Profit and funded by ECMC Foundation — found that the positive association between SparkPoint and student achievement was even greater for students who participated in SparkPoint financial coaching sessions. In fact, those that participated in at least two financial coaching sessions in 2019-20 were 67% more likely to persist, graduate, or transfer than similar students who did not receive such services.

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“United Way Bay Area is on the frontlines in our community, providing and coordinating assistance in a region grappling with widening inequality and skyrocketing costs of living,” said Elizabeth Maggio, Director of Sparkpoint at UWBA. “This latest research shows that we are making progress toward a Bay Area where all people have the opportunities and resources needed to thrive. These results serve as a reminder that when we provide students — including many low-income, first-generation students — with the financial resources and skills everyone needs, they not only succeed, they thrive.”

The importance of earning some type of post-secondary degree or certificate has never been more clear. Students who earn a degree or certificate from a community college in California nearly double their earnings within three years, and attending or graduating from a community college in the state nearly doubles one’s chances of finding a job compared to those who failed to earn a high school diploma.

Students who cannot consistently meet their basic needs — like food and housing — often cope with these challenges by dropping classes, working more hours, and even skipping semesters, all of which makes them less likely to complete their degrees or skills training. One in four students at community colleges regularly can’t afford three meals per day, and many are the first in their families to enroll in school.

SparkPoint services are provided at no cost. Community colleges often serve as the venue where people begin their path out of poverty and start the journey toward financial security and prosperity. This fall, United Way Bay Area will open its 24th SparkPoint center at San Francisco State University (SFSU), its first at a four-year school. You can learn more about UWBA’s SparkPoint program here.

About United Way Bay Area
United Way Bay Area (UWBA) mobilizes the Bay Area to assist people living in poverty and to dismantle the root causes of poverty. One of the most respected and highly effective philanthropic organizations fighting poverty, UWBA supports workers and students seeking employment and better careers, helps families struggling to meet basic needs, supports our neighbors toward achieving their financial stability goals, and advocates for housing justice for all Bay Area residents. Learn more at uwba.org.