Up until that day, the class had been like any other. The guest speaker spoke for only a short time, but those few minutes on an otherwise nondescript day in spring 2015 at Lorain County Community College’s Lorain Learning Center changed Allyssa Earl’s life.
The speaker was Cynthia Arredondo, an academic adviser at LCCC, who talked about the Students Accelerating in Learning (SAIL) program, which helps low-income, first-time college students overcome barriers. Earl felt a spark.
“I was super eager to apply and sat through the rest of the class waiting,” she says.
After class, she submitted her online application and was immediately accepted to the SAIL program, which requires students to attend classes full time.
“I was charged,” says Earl, a 2014 graduate of Lorain High School. “I felt super ecstatic. I got emotional. Because this is my life, you know? The what-if was turning into reality.”
Earl also had concerns about whether she would be able to meet the requirement of attending classes full time to focus on earning her degree, but she was determined to succeed.
“I knew I couldn’t stop working completely, because I had bills,” Earl says. “But I was able to put my education first and realize I had to invest in myself to eventually earn more money later.”
Because Earl had no transportation, being able to attend classes close to home in downtown Lorain provided an opportunity she would not have otherwise had. A part-time student with a full-time job at a grocery store, she had never considered attending classes full time an option. But acceptance to the SAIL program changed the equation by removing the barriers to success.
“Allyssa had a real desire, a hunger for both knowledge and academia and making a difference in her life to improve her circumstances,” says Arredondo. “She’s stellar in who she is and how she’s grown.”
Setting an example
Setting an example
Earl, 22, earned an associate of arts degree in psychology in spring 2018 and is 15 credits shy of her bachelor’s degree in psychology through LCCC’s University Partnership program with Cleveland State University.
“Now that I’m so close to the finish line, it’s kind of surreal,” says Earl, who has worked as a student worker at the Lorain Learning Center and now works in the office of Student Life at LCCC’s Elyria campus. “Sometimes I still don’t believe it.”
She has become a role model for the impact the SAIL program can have on a student’s success and in her own family, as well. As the first member of her family to attend college full time, Earl understands what she represents to her 12-year-old brother, Aveon, and her 9-year-old sisters, Marrissa and Olivia.
“They need that positive role model to look up to, education-wise, and I wanted them to know you could do what you want to do,” says Earl. “That gives me the extra push.”
Another push has come from Arredondo, who went from being a guest speaker in Earl’s class to becoming one of the most important people in her life. As her adviser, she has encouraged Earl on those difficult days when the demands of college cause doubt to creep in.
“It was really hard trying to balance working and school, and at times I wanted to give up,” Earl says. “But Cynthia was encouraging and accessible. To have that support where you might not be getting it elsewhere is very touching. Words can’t describe how much I appreciate Cynthia for being with me. If it wasn’t for her, I would have given up.”
Offering students assistance during the transition from part-time student to full time is as critical to the SAIL program as financial assistance.
“Its primary goal is graduation and completion, but there is also a vision,” Arredondo says. “What are the options for this particular student? What can I help them with? It starts with me being a key support person, but it is about getting them to have the confidence to navigate on their own.”
LCCC has made it a priority to scale the SAIL program from 150 students to 1,000 within five years. And for students like Earl, who plans to pursue her doctorate in psychology and open her own practice, the program has been a game-changer.
“Honestly, it means everything,” Earl says. “The SAIL program gave me a lot of encouragement and confidence and helped me get to where I am. Before, I was scared to work part time and take six credit hours. Now I’m taking 15 credit hours, working two jobs, and I’m treasurer of Psi Beta, the national honor society for psychology. I’ve definitely grown as a person.”
Fostering student success
LCCC is one of three Ohio community colleges selected to take part in a project to replicate a City University of New York program to increase graduation rates and in 2015 launched Students Accelerating in Learning (SAIL) to remove barriers to student success. MRDC, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research group, found that 41 percent of SAIL students graduate in three years.