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Edison HOPE scholarship director fights back

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Edison HOPE scholarship director fights back

By Matt Grant. CREATED Apr 23, 2013

FORT MYERS - The director of an Edison State College scholarship designed to help poor, at-risk kids, is speaking out after the college announced it's ending the 20-year-program.

Fredrick Morgan, the director of Edison's Help One Person Excel, or HOPE scholarship program, is accusing the college of using incomplete data in its decision to phase out the program.

"What are you thinking about right now?," asked Fox 4 reporter Matt Grant.

"The memories," said Morgan, with a tear in his eyes.

Morgan gets choked upped hen talking about the memories of HOPE scholarship students who have gone on to graduate.

"They hung in there with my support and other student support they graduated," said Morgan. "And they walked across the stage and shook the president's hand and received their degree."

A degree that might not have been possible if not for the HOPE scholarship. Privately funded, the scholarship allows students to get their associates degree. The scholarship pays tuition for mostly minority, low-income and at-risk students. 

Morgan, who has been with the college for nearly 30 years, calls this his life's work.

"Helping young people get in school who might not otherwise, who have had doors slammed in their faces, who've been told 'you're not good enough you're not smart enough,'" said Morgan, "and those students can make it and they're making it here at Edison."

Fox 4 first told you about Morgan last July. The HOPE scholarship was to be recognized by President Obama during his Fort Myers visit last year, which was shortened due to the Aurora, Colo. shooting.

In a news release, the college said at the time: "The program...has helped hundreds of students who never dreamed of getting a college education graduate with a degree."

But less than a year later college now says the program isn't working.

"There does not appear to have been a consistent emphasis on ensuring that Project HOPE students graduate in a timely manner," a college spokeswoman told Fox 4 in a statement.

According to the college, on average, 15 percent of HOPE students graduate on time and 32 percent graduate late.

Morgan disputes that. He says the college missed some students in their figures so he did his own research.

"I went student by student," said Morgan. "Year by year. So I didn't miss any student."

According to Morgan, for the class of 2009, 55 percent graduated, 36 percent on time.

"Remember this population is first generation, at-risk and many of the students that walk through the door have tremendous baggage," said Morgan. "And so that's why the support system is critical to keep those students in college."

Morgan, who is surrounded by messages of "hope" in his office, fears hope will be lost for some students.

"Do you think it means fewer kids going to college" if the scholarship ends?," asked Fox 4 reporter Matt Grant.

"That's a strong possibility," said Morgan.

College officials dispute Morgan's findings. They are also not renewing his contract after nearly 30 years on the job.

The college is replacing the HOPE scholarship with the Presidential Scholarship. That is aimed at helping first-generation students but it will be harder to get.

Fox 4 could not see the college or Morgan's data due to student privacy laws.

Project HOPE findings

2010 HOPE scholarship program: 29 HOPE scholars out of 82 or 35% graduated on time in a 2 and a half year time-frame. The overall percentage for 2010 is yet to be determined due to HOPE scholars currently enrolled.

2009 HOPE scholarship program: 30 HOPE scholars out of 83 or 36% graduated on time in a 2 and a half year time frame. 46 HOPE scholars out of the 83 have graduated or 55%.
 

2008 HOPE scholarship program: 24 HOPE scholars out of 89 or 27% graduated on time in a 2 and a half year time frame. 44 HOPE scholars out of 89 or 49% have graduated or 49%.

Edison response

Edison State College administration was made aware this afternoon at approximately 6:00 p.m. of claims that data shared with the Edison State College Board of Trustees in their April 16 meeting concerning the graduation rates of their Project HOPE students are inaccurate.  These data that indicate that 15.4 % of the Project Hope students graduate in two (2) years (on time) when looking at a five (5)-year average rate come directly from college databases that track scholarships and financial aid. While this average is slightly above the graduation rate for all students, it is nowhere near the reported 80% graduation rate earlier reported by the Project HOPE office. These data have been verified by the Office of Research, Technology, and Accountability. Additionally, financial aid records are routinely monitored through state and federal audits.

Further, there have been erroneous claims that Edison is limiting access to first generation and / or low income students. Edison State remains an open access campus and affordable to students, slightly less than 50% of whom receive financial aid. Additionally, there remain programs such as Upward Bound and the Student Support Services program at Edison State that are available to students who need support structures to be successful. What has changed is that the new Presidential Scholars Program replacing Project HOPE in the fall of 2014 requires students meet certain criteria that put them on track for graduation.  President Jeff Allbritten has been clear that Edison must do more than bring students in the door – we must look at better systems and greater accountability to get them to graduation. 

On April 11, President Allbritten shared with the Edison State Trustee members that in our review of the data for students who have been awarded Project HOPE funds for the past 7 years, we have found that:

  • approximately 15% of the Project HOPE students graduate in 2 years,
  • when we look at the 3 year graduation rate, it yields better results with approximately 32% graduating, but remains well below the 80% claim.

Dr. Allbritten further stated that these graduation rates, while troubling, are not surprising if cohort data are studied from program entrance. That is, only about 50% of the Project HOPE students complete their first semester of study with 15 earned credits and a 2.5 grade point average, the indicator that they are on track for graduation in two (2) years. 

President Allbritten continued explaining that Edison is committed to providing educational opportunities for students, including those who are the first in their families to attend college. Our new Presidential Scholars Program is aimed at making college accessible and affordable for high-achieving first generation students (the same demographic of former Project HOPE recipients), but it additionally includes that scholars enter college ready, maintain a 3.0 GPA, participate in service learning, and complete an internship prior to graduation. Changing this program to add a service learning component is based on a review of best practices relative to what college students need to do to enhance their academic experience.  And adding the internship component allows Presidential Scholars to have “real workplace experience” that will improve their resumes when job seeking or applying for BS or graduate programs. Additionally, we will increase support mechanisms to help more students progress to graduation, monitoring their progress from entry into the program.

Edison State is committed to holding students more accountable. It is a must to move them towards graduation. We can and must increase the accountability while continuing to be open access – they are not mutually exclusive. As we partner with Complete College America – a national initiative to increase college graduation rates – it is important for every aspect of the college to seek more and better ways to ensure students graduate. While there does not appear to have been a consistent emphasis on ensuring that Project HOPE students graduate in a timely manner, it will be a focus of the new Presidential Scholars Program.
 
Matt Grant
mgrant@fox4now.com