A Degree is Key: How Equitable is Expanding College Access in Charlotte
A college degree makes a difference, and there’s research to prove it. In 2017, a pivotal Opportunity Task Force Report found that the key to improving Charlotte’s social mobility is improving college access. Further demonstrating this link, students who earn degrees are more likely to move up the economic ladder compared to peers without degrees, according to a 2023 report from the Institution for Higher Education Policy.
The solution may seem clear, but challenges remain. While Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools' graduation rate has dropped from 88% in 2015 to 83.6% in 2022 (NC DPI, 2023), even fewer students complete college on time - just 30% of Charlotte college enrollees (Opportunity Compass, 2023).
Equitable has provided over $30 million in scholarships to more than 7,000 students since 2003 through Equitable Foundation.
“While we would love to give every deserving student a scholarship, the reality is that it isn’t feasible,” said Jarian Kerekes, Head of Social Impact and Community Engagement at Equitable. “That is why we have leaned into providing resources for students to explore pathways to college, which include FAFSA completion programs, college essay writing workshops, financial aid exploration and college tours. We can provide these opportunities at scale and remove as many barriers to access as possible.”
One of the most important components to the college application process is the college essay and by partnering with Gen One, they have helped to make this easier for students. Watch this video to see how Gen One helps these students determine their unique story to stand out in their application process.
How Equitable Makes a Difference: Investing, Uniting, and Bridging
Equitable directly invests in students through initiatives like the Equitable Excellence Scholarship®, which supports high school seniors who demonstrate financial need with renewable $5,000 awards or one-time $2,500 awards. Of the 2023 class of recipients, 70% of scholarships went to BIPOC students and 55% to first-generation college students. The 2024 Equitable Excellence Scholarship® application period is now open and will be active until December 18th, 2023, 3:00 p.m. CST. Students can apply here.
Alivia Roberts, a 2014 recipient, says the Equitable Excellence Scholarship® made college possible for her, “I have been able to go to school debt-free. I’ve been able to pursue my master’s degree in a city of my dreams and I’m working in a dream position that I’m very grateful for and without the scholarship it would not have been possible.”
In addition to direct student support, strategic collaborations like the Crescent Coalition amplify Equitable's impact. In 2019, Equitable provided seed funding to unite nine Charlotte college access nonprofits.
As Virginia Covill of Leading on Opportunity explains, “These complex problems are too difficult for one organization to solve alone. What if we had an intentional collaboration?” Together, these nonprofits share resources and provide 1,500 students with more holistic support.
In one instance, the Coalition was able to pool funds to provide a comprehensive college tour for 100 students rather than separate tours of five. This tour included transportation and a full panel discussion. “It was an incredibly different experience,” Covill affirms. “Still accomplishing the same things, but not possible alone." Watch this video to see how impactful these college tours were on students.
Jakari Mcriver, a senior said, “The college tours provided by Carolina Youth Coalition and Equitable have allowed me to determine the type of campuses that would allow me to feel at home. I have gained insight on how to navigate being a first-generation student on campus.”
In 2022, Equitable also partnered with Road to Hire to take a unique approach to addressing the FAFSA completion gap. Together, they implemented a six-week curriculum in six Title I high schools. This curriculum used incentives like experiences for FAFSA completion. As a result, they increased completion from 44% to 99% – connecting more students with necessary aid.
The Road Ahead
While progress has been made, there’s still work to be done. Equitable and the nonprofits the company frequently collaborates with stay committed to empowering students to not just enroll but excel in higher education.
All Charlotteans can get involved by supporting nonprofits in the Crescent Coalition by volunteering, donating or shopping their online wish lists and making a difference in the lives of these prospective students.