Report: UWBA’s SparkPoint Improves Student Persistence at Community Colleges

By: Ena Yasuhara Li

Staying in school has never been more difficult. But SparkPoint knows how to get students back on track. 

United Way Bay Area’s SparkPoint program is excited to release our first-ever report on student persistence: The SparkPoint Difference. SparkPoint provides low-income Bay Area residents with free financial and career coaching and education to help them change their lives. SparkPoint has over 20 locations across eight Bay Area counties, including nine on community college campuses.

Our report looks at school persistence rates as a key indicator of student success. If you can’t stay in school and finish your classes, you won’t get the skills or credentials you need to land a career that is stable or a job that pays enough to afford living in the Bay Area. The SparkPoint Difference shows that the persistence rates among students enrolled in SparkPoint at five community colleges in the Bay Area were higher than the college-wide average. Our report looks at several key factors that can be attributed to higher persistence rates for SparkPoint students.

The Challenge 

SparkPoint’s rapid expansion in community colleges is a testament to the critical challenge faced by post-secondary institutions to retain vulnerable students and SparkPoint’s ability to tackle this challenge. Colleges often struggle with low enrollment, student persistence and completion rates among low-income students, students of color, and first-generation students. But through comprehensive financial, career, and basic needs supports, SparkPoint has successfully contributed to student persistence.

In 2015, we learned that Skyline College students who accessed SparkPoint services were more likely to stay in school. Fall-to-spring semester persistence rates for SparkPoint clients were 79%, compared to 64% college wide. SparkPoint proved effective for students because it addressed non-academic worries so that they were able to focus on their studies and stay in school.  

Fast forward five years and we have expanded SparkPoint centers to eight other community colleges in the Bay Area. At every community college where we could obtain data, persistence rates among SparkPoint students were higher than non-SparkPoint students. 

SparkPoint and COVID-19

Though we conducted this study and wrote this report before the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States, the results may be more relevant now than ever. Marginalized students are now facing heightened obstacles as a result of the pandemic and staying in school will be even more difficult for them.

Bobby Nakamoto, Director of Student Equity and Success at Chabot College – the site of our newest SparkPoint Center set to open in the fall – sent a plea for 1,500 laptops, which he needs to make sure the most vulnerable students can continue their studies. Adolfo Leiva, Director of SparkPoint at Cañada College, says: “Some people just don’t have internet access, or a quiet space at home where they can study. Many others just need to focus on necessities like food or childcare or help with their expenses since they’ve lost their jobs.”  

With rising unemployment, lack of resources, and many students getting lost in the world of distance learning, we have a lot of work ahead of us. We must do everything we can to support our students during this time and beyond. SparkPoint will continue to support students through this challenging time, helping them to stay focused on school.

To download The SparkPoint Difference, click here and to learn more about SparkPoint and how you can support, click here.

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