“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world,” Nelson Mandela. While there are many factors that contribute to the cumulative disadvantages in equity within our country, there is no more powerful method of empowerment than higher education. Completing a 2-year degree yields a 30% increase in earnings while completing a 4-year degree yields a 230% earnings increase. Higher education in the U.S. has become more expensive and less accessible, a phenomenon that has directly impacted underserved communities and need based students. Shockingly, research shows that 70% of California's 2.1 million community college students will neither earn a two-year associate degree nor transfer to a four-year school. Most of the students that make up this 70% failure rate are represented by ethnic minorities, first generation college students, and those from lower income households. This is not an uncommon trend across the U.S. The uncensored truth is that, on a shoestring budget, community colleges accommodate most of the underserved students in higher education. Only 35% of Hispanic students will finish community college, 13% of which will go on to attend a 4-year degree programs. 27% of African American students finish community college with only 9% pursuing 4-year degree program. In addition, U.S. Community colleges educate 67% of students who come from household that earn less than $50k per year.

When a student begins their journey at a California Community College, they are met with confusing websites, disjointed information, and outdated PDFs. Furthermore, counselors in California Community Colleges are overburdened by the staggering faculty to student ratio, leaving many busy and disadvantaged students with a ‘one size fits none’ educational curriculum. Of the minority of students that complete community college, the average student takes 95 credit hours to complete an Associate’s degree, 60% more than required.

If community colleges are the number one workforce trainer in the United States, why are we failing our underrepresented minority and financially challenged students?

To promote academic inclusion and democratize higher education, our team created The Counselor. It is important to understand that while full time education is a narrative for few, this is a dream for many community college students who face more dynamic work-life-personal challenges. Our product is focused on serving the pain points for community college student in the recruiting, retention, and graduation/transfer process. Not only does The Counselor allow a student to map academic requirements at any stage in their academic journey, but the curated experience allows them to identify the best colleges based on their financial constraints and travel constraints. Using our platform, students can optimize class schedule around employment considerations, and connect with friend or make new ones with the allowing students to plan their end to end educational journey through community college (even before they begin) The Counselor addresses one of the most critical challenges that community colleges face. The Counselor increases transparency. By improving the planning process, we reduce the risks associated with attending colleges will increase enrollment, retention, graduation, and transfer rates among socioeconomically disadvantaged students.

Design proved to be a key component of the product. We created The Counselor to serve students who have budgeted time to dedicate to academics due to the burdens of life, but also exercised significant consideration to ensure that our product is comprehensive and inclusive for all students to plan their education. One such feature that embodies this consideration is the ‘Clik’ feature, which allows a student to create their personal ‘Clik’ to track and connect with friends and others with similar interests to share success journeys. In addition, The Counselor increases all student’s financial capacity by helping them avoid wasted courses, and reducing the time spent to obtain a degree or transfer to a 4 year university, empowering students to achieve their goals.

In order to maximize this product in the future, we must develop a more comprehensive database with all transfer options for every community college across the U.S. In addition, to ensure we are providing opportunity for all, these considerations must be extended to the international student journey. We will expand our research and product market knowledge beyond the borders of the United States to democratize affordable education globally.

The transparent access to resources and academic planning will benefit students, faculty, and the California economy. The Counselor will unlock resources for need based and disadvantaged students as well as students who are thriving in the community college ecosystem. The final demographic to consider are students who are not able to afford consistent access to a computer or smartphone. While these students may not have access to our product, our ability to automate the community counselor’s job will ensure their schedules have more availability for these highly disadvantaged yet important members of each class.

Finally, we would love to build transparent and user-friendly tools and features that will allow students to apply for and streamline the fellowship process. In our development, we are careful not to gamify the product, avoiding student oversaturation and attention issues related to The Counselor. By providing a free and streamlined platform for community college students to map their academic journey and build communities of success, we simplify the counselor to student engagement. We believe that over the next year, our product can set the standard for student success planning as we work to democratize education and eliminate achievement gaps. This innovation is critical to improving student success in California community colleges and the long-term economic forecast for our country.

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