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May 3, 2021

By Channa Sweet
United Way Bay Area has a long history of investing in future generations through our youth workforce development and SparkPoint programs which connect young people to jobs, career resources, and a host of other services that are helping them build brighter futures.

As we’ve seen today, many young people are facing a number of challenges as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, including trying to adopt a virtual learning style. A McKinsey report on learning loss found that students on average may have lost 5-9 months of learning by the end of the 2020-2021 school year. For students of color, the loss could be 6-12 months. And while the pandemic has exacerbated many factors that contribute to challenges in graduating on time, this is not a new challenge. Even before the pandemic, fewer than 40% of community college students earn a certificate or degree within six years of enrollment, according to research by the Brookings Institution.

Our SparkPoint program has found success in solving for the need of supporting community college students who need it most. In our report, The SparkPoint Difference, we found that community college students who use SparkPoint services persist in school at a higher rate than their peers. This is because the variety of services offered helps combat the root causes of dropping out–the primary reason being financial challenges.

With the high cost of living in the Bay Area, students feel tremendous financial pressure. Community college students often work to support their families and are often forced to choose between continuing their education or working to support their family.

Students are also facing food insecurity. When students are tight on finances and can’t afford groceries, they go hungry and lose focus easily. Hunger decreases brain function, resulting in poor school performance, which leads to failing classes and declining motivation to stay in school. This leaves many with debt amassed and no degree.

SparkPoint offers services such as financial coaching, an on-site food pantry with fresh fruits and vegetables, help navigating housing insecurities, free tax preparation, legal support, credit counseling, and more. These services provide a safety net for students so they can continue focusing on school and graduation, a pathway that opens doors to higher paying jobs.

Jess Hudson, a student parent like the nearly 50% of returning SparkPoint students, was a stay-at-home mom for six years before going back to school. She says, “Going back to school was a huge leap, and I did not have an adequate safety net…I would study at soccer practice so I could help my kids with homework in the evening.”

She discovered SparkPoint through the on-site food pantry and recalls, “I didn’t have to choose between focusing as a student or feeding my family… The support and stability of SparkPoint gave me the confidence to keep going through school. It’s been a difficult road to get to graduation but I am here!”

Jess shares her story in the video above along with other guest speakers who discuss why students are dropping out of college and what you can do to help. Watch the video to learn more. Help support United Way Bay Area’s SparkPoint program by donating today!

*The featured webinar was hosted by UWBA’s Tocqueville Society and Women United.