Todd Flaherty is president and CEO of The College Crusade, a Providence nonprofit that works to reduce high school dropout rates and increase educational and career success through academic enrichment, social and personal development, and career awareness and exploration programs to some 3,500 urban youth in Providence, Pawtucket, Central Falls, Woonsocket and Cranston.
Since 2001 the organization, funded by a federal grant, the State of Rhode Island and through private donations, has awarded more than $25 million in college scholarships to more than 3,300 high school graduates.
PBN: Do your programs offer opportunities to learn about or enter trade training, which many are touting as the path to future jobs in Rhode Island?
FLAHERTY: All of The College Crusade’s programs emphasize college and career readiness. By “college” we mean any postsecondary degree a student may desire to pursue to be ready for a chosen career. Exposing students to career exploration programs early in middle school and throughout high school is a cornerstone of our approach. We build student awareness of career pathways so they see the relevance of their academic studies to their career aspirations. When they make that connection, they are more motivated to learn. In this way, we are helping our students to become productive members of the workforce and to contribute to strengthening the Rhode Island economy.
PBN: What is the biggest challenge in attracting and keeping students engaged in your programs?
FLAHERTY: We work with many of our state’s most economically disadvantaged students and families. Our challenge is to keep them engaged in learning and moving forward with their educational plans. In many cases, our families struggle with day-to-day economic survival and oftentimes unstable and precarious home lives. Fortunately, they all share the same dream: a bright future for their children. By maintaining our effectiveness as an organization and keeping expectations high for student and family engagement, we help many young people realize their college and career dreams.
PBN: What are your students’ greatest challenges in achieving college acceptance?
FLAHERTY: Out students and families confront the same competitive admission requirements as do other Rhode Island students. High academic achievement and skill proficiency are universally a very big key to gaining admission to college and ultimately to success. Also, because many of them are the first in their families to attend college, they do not have any experience with the complex college admissions and financial aid process, nor do they have the financial literacy skills needed to evaluate an investment in higher education. We provide students and families with extensive support.
PBN: What is your largest funding challenge?
FLAHERTY: We are constantly faced with the dilemma of maintaining the kinds of programs that we know will work for our students and families and acquiring sufficient resources to accomplish our mission. We rely heavily on public, state and federal support, and we are absolutely dependent on the generosity of our private contributors, business partners, and foundation supporters. Obtaining the necessary resources to ensure our effectiveness and financial viability takes daily attention, particualry in the midst of a very challenging economy.
PBN: Your programs incorporate many of our state’s higher education institutions. Have many of your students gone on to attend college here?
FLAHERTY: Ninety-nine percent our students who attend college stay in state, and the majority of them attend one of our three public institutions. Our students have a strong motivation to pursue their postsecondary degrees in Rhode Island because we guarantee them a College Crusade scholarship that can be used at any public or private college in the state. Our scholarships can also be used at any accredited trade school in Rhode Island and at select out-of-state colleges that donate scholarships through our scholarship collaborative.