ONE MILLION DEGREES: Increasing Opportunity for Chicago Students / By Serena Taylor
There are seven community colleges that serve in the City of Chicago. The schools offer opportunities for students from different backgrounds to complete their academic programs in order to advance them in their education or career. According to Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the City Colleges of Chicago, the schools have a record graduation rate of 22.9 percent (2018), an increase of 108 percent since (2011). With a higher graduation rate, there is a need for resources that can aid the future success of community college students. One Million Degrees, founded in 2006, is a program that supports students from lowincome communities in their academics, future careers and personal life. One Million Degrees partners with all seven City Colleges of Chicago and several other Illinois community colleges. The program follows a scholar development model, which offers financial, academic, professional, and personal support for each of the students. Students receive a tuition stipend for the academic year to prevent financial barriers on educational expenses. When asked about why she decided to apply to One Million Degrees through the City Colleges of Chicago, Kaliah Little responded she “knew from an experience at another school, [she] needed support, accountability, a network and a community to lean on to transition to city colleges and to have a successful transition to 4-year university.” Students are required to attend monthly sessions at their campus. The first session focuses on scholar development and the second session allows scholars to meet with their assigned professional coach. Arielle Semmel, an OMD coach since 2011, believes the best part about being a professional coach is getting to know the OMD scholars. “They are an amazing and inspiring group of individuals who teach me new ways to understand my city and the world and myself in them.” The students are required to attend one-on-one meetings with their program coordinator on campus. Program coordinators engage with scholars throughout the year, making sure scholars maintain the expectations of the program. Many positive outcomes have come out of the program. According to One Million Degrees 2016-2017 annual report, 83% of OMD scholars graduated or persisted in OMD for the full academic year. About 90% of OMD Alumni are employed or continuing their education or both. One Million Degrees continues to grow every year with new scholars joining the program and new opportunities awaiting them. Learn more at https://www. onemilliondegrees.org.