MAPLE GROVE, Minn. (1/21/15)--A credit union is playing a big role in an innovative seven-year program that creates a stable of local organizations that support low-income students in their journeys from middle school to their first years of college.
|Vicki Roscoe Erickson, vice president of marketing for TopLine FCU, leads a parent summit at Robbinsdale (Minn.) Middle School, called "College Now, College Later. It's Never Too Early to Talk About College." (TopLine FCU Photo)|
As part of that program, TopLine FCU, Maple Grove, Minn., with $352 million in assets, has stepped up to help prepare these students, and their parents, to pay for college.
"We're starting students out at a younger age to get them thinking about what their futures hold, both via a career as well as building personal money management skills," Vicki Roscoe Erickson, TopLine vice president of marketing, told News Now.
The college preparatory program, funded through a grant from the U.S. Department of Education called GEAR UP, or Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs, aims to accomplish three goals for the participating students:
"When it's all said and done, it's focusing in on the students--most of them will be first generation to attend a higher education after high school--to help them prepare, enroll and succeed in post-secondary programs," Erickson said.
"It's (also) helping their parents understand (their options)," Erickson added. "It's really eye-opening and rewarding when I do talk to a parent and they're wowed by all of these efforts that are going into this partnership, which are all voluntary efforts by the organizations. It's pretty cool to see."
Organized by Hennepin Technical College, Brooklyn Park, Minn., which received the grant to coordinate the community-wide program, GEAR UP has measurable goals, including increasing the number of students who graduate from high school and the number of students who are accepted into college, according to Erickson.
"We're one of several community partners that work together to provide the students and the families the range of services they need to prepare for school," Erickson said. "Some of these include in-school tutoring, mentoring, in-classroom financial education sessions, career exploration, field trips visiting college campuses to understand what college life is all about, summer camps and after-school programs."
Erickson says the credit union stresses that students and their families take advantage of grant programs offered throughout the community and that they fill out Federal Application for Free Student Aid (FAFSA) forms, among other advice.
In fact, among the goals tracked by the program is to raise the number of students who fill out a FAFSA.
|As part of the GEAR UP college preparatory program, TopLine FCU, Maple Grove, Minn., offers myriad resources to help position low-income students and parents to be financially prepared for the leap to college. (TopLine FCU Photo)|
"It's a cool combined community effort," Erickson said. "We're there to help support parents and youth in terms of bettering their financial and career success, and we're all kind of coming together to hope to see that we're making an impact on students and families."
Other organizations involved in the GEAR UP program include the New Hope (Minn.) YMCA, the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts of America, the New Hope Police Department, the Minnesota Office of Higher Education and the College Board.
Each has its own responsibility to develop these students in the many ways it takes to position them to be successful in this program and gain entrance into college.
Erickson also takes the opportunity to explain the differences between credit unions and banks, and the benefits of credit union membership, to participants and their families.
Credit unions are not-for-profit financial cooperatives that exist to serve their members/owners. Credit unions do not issue stock or pay dividends to outside stockholders. Instead, earnings are returned to members in the form of lower loan rates, higher interest on deposits and lower fees.
"We make sure that they know credit unions can provide the same services mainstream banks do, but that there are added benefits" of belonging to a credit union, Erickson said.
(This is part of a continuing News Now's new series, "The CU Effect," which gives readers a fresh and in-depth look at how credit unions make a difference in the world every day. Look for the next installment Feb. 4.)