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Building Capability, Empowering Students, Achieving Success

Building Capability, Empowering Students, Achieving Success

The students at Los Angeles Harbor College (LAHC) who visit Armando Villalpando have been through a lot more than your average 18 year-olds. Young people who have been shuttled through years of foster care come to Armando through a program sponsored by the college to help them navigate life at LAHC with a special emphasis on understanding their finances—how to pay not just for college but everything associated with attending a postsecondary institution, from housing, to transportation, and to life beyond the campus walls.

L.A. Harbor’s financial capability program, which focused on students formerly in foster care and returning military veterans, is profiled along with two other colleges in a new report from MDC and Achieving the Dream, “Building Capability, Empowering Students, and Achieving Success.”  The study reflects on lessons learned through the Financial Empowerment for Student Success Initiative, a partnership between MDC and Achieving the Dream that was funded through a grant from the Bank of America Charitable Foundation. Three community colleges received funding to scale their financial capability programs. LAHC implemented the foster care transition program described above. Houston Community College introduced a financial literacy training component into all its student-success classes, making sure that thousands of students got important lessons on how to manage their finances in college. The Community College of Baltimore County expanded the direct financial coaching it provides to students, offering one-on-one assistance to students who face financial challenges. 

While the report offers some important lessons on the best ways to implement and scale these programs, it also identifies the vital need for such services on campus, especially in connecting with some of the hardest-to-reach students. One especially important lesson is the difference that can be made through the careful matching of staff who can identify with students in the program. Program administrators at L.A. Harbor made a conscious effort to find financial coaches who had training as counselors and could relate to the experiences of students in each cohort. The two coaches hired for the effort were both young, and one coach, Armando Villalpando, is a former LAHC student and foster youth. The ability to relate to a student’s experience was critical to building trust and ultimately having a greater influence on students. In a focus group, several participants indicated the personal connection with the coaches, such as Armando, was important.

“Yes, that’s the whole key,” said one student. “It’s a pathetic thing for someone to say, ‘I know what you’ve been through’ when they haven’t. You don’t understand how we feel; you don’t know what goes through our heads. But with Armando, you know, he’s been there.”

You can read the full report here