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Is This The New Model for Community College? Give it to Year Up

05/01/2015 12:25 pm ET | Updated Jun 29, 2015

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The American opportunity divide between the haves and have-nots, continues to grow and unrest from American youth is playing out over deep wounds as we watch Baltimore this week. Hope is hard to see sometimes. Already recognized nationally and locally, Chertavian has some very interesting things to say about education, college and, when pressed, the top-earners giving back. He seemed like the perfect voice for today.

Gerald Chertavian founded Year Up, an intensive one-year training and education program that serves low income youth ages 18-24, more than fifteen years ago. His mission is to help young adults find a way to a living wage after high school and prepare for and access a career path and pursue higher education. Today there are cries across the system that community colleges in this country are broken and the ubiquitous figure thrown around in the education industry is that only 20 per cent of students in community colleges graduate.

Today, Year Up is in 14 cities across America and growing. The original model, Core, partners students with leaders in American industry who, on a per-student basis, fund that student to participate in a one-year Year Up program. The student receives a stipend, a year-long experience, an internship and classroom training that counts towards college credits. In Boston, for example, the students receive $153/week during the Learning & Development phase while they attend classes at the Year Up site and $225/week or $900/month during the internship phase. This varies by city and students are penalized financially if they are late for class, not wearing professional attire or missing an assignment.

"These young adults are the assets this country needs. They're not deficits. They're not social liabilities. On balance, if you look across our inner cities, you look across our areas of poverty, you have the economic assets this country needs to be globally competitive, to have a strong workforce, to have the strong communities we want. The question is: how do we realize the potential of these young people?" says Chertavian.

That Core program is in its own building and in 8 cities around the US. But today, four years into a pilot, the Professional Training Core (PTC) program places these same terms inside a college. To date all of the PTC partners are community colleges, except the University of Florida in Jacksonville. This new PTC model allows Year Up to reduce the cost per student that they need to cover both the student stipend and the overhead by being inside the community college.

I sat down with Chertavian to talk about what drove him to start Year Up and if Year Up hopes to remodel community college across the nation where government seems stuck.

What are you doing and how has it grown?

I learned very early on what that opportunity divide looked like in terms of young people who weren't achieving their potential for all the wrong reasons: the color of their skin, the zip code they were born into, the school system they attended, or the bank balance of their parents. This divide limits those young people's potential to get where they need to get to. It affects all of us as a country.

This was burned into my conscience early on in my life. It is not only wrong in any way you look at it: financially, morally, socially but it's also something that's fixable. We started Year Up in 2000 with a very resolute mission and vision to provide adults with opportunities to reach their potential. That's never changed.

These young adults are the assets this country needs. They're not deficits. They're not social liabilities. On balance, if you look across our inner cities, you look across our areas of poverty, you have the economic assets this country needs to be globally competitive, to have a strong workforce, to have the strong communities we want. The question is: how do we realize the potential of these young people? Year Up's gone from 22 students to 2,750 students and not because we're some wonderful organization. It's because these young adults are who we know they are.

Why after having significant financial success when you sold your Internet Services firm at a young age, did you turn to this?

I got my best education in the Lower East Side of Manhattan back in the late '80s spending every Saturday of my life with a young boy who lived in what was then the most heavily photographed crime scene in NYC. Spending every Saturday in that context and then seeing what was his reality changed my life. It also educated me deeply about the nature of poverty, the nature of opportunity. The things I thought I knew growing up about why people are poor actually weren't true.

What myths were changed for you?

That if you're poor, it's because you're lazy. I grew up with a view that said that if you're poor, it's your fault. It's because you didn't work hard enough. And I was totally wrong.

The young boy who I had a chance to be a Big Brother to has since become a member of our family for all purposes. I treat him as I treat my children. What he taught me was incredibly valuable because all he needed was opportunity and access. He didn't need motivation. He didn't need persistence. He didn't need grit. He came with those things.

He grew up in a neighborhood that engendered those competencies and qualities because of what he went through in his life. What he needed was an opportunity to put those into productive capacity. We have that in millions of young people in America today.

Corporations are investing money with you that are not charitable dollars?

That's correct. They take on a certain number of interns per cycle and pay a weekly rate. We bill them on a weekly basis, and interns fill out equivalent time sheets. In some cases a student may not complete the program and fire him/herself, in which case the employer partner stops paying for that internship seat once a student leaves. Our overall program retention is high (75% or above), and even higher during the internship phase in general.

Are you the new model for community college given graduation rates across the US are at a dismal 20 percent?

We have to recognize that we've got 1,100 community colleges that educate 45% of college goers in this country. It's a big system. And it is not particularly well funded.

The things we do at Year Up require caring adults. They require folks who can bridge the gap between labor and education. Our community colleges are not well funded today to do everything that they would like to do. What Year Up does fundamentally is we support that young person in a learning community with peer support and very clear expectations around behavior and attitude, which is almost antithetical to how many community colleges operate today.

Our full interview with Gerald Chertavian is at TheEditorial.com

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