Your plEDGE Gives Students an EDGE

Nearly 10 years after its initial inception, the EDGE/plEDGE program prepares dedicated full-time students for every aspect of college life, from math and English skills to counseling and free tuition.

While it may sound fun and catchy, EDGE/plEDGE is a life-changing program for students who attend College of the Desert. Many of the 1,800 students in the new cohort each year would not have believed there existed a way for them to attend community college and then launch a promising career or transfer to a four-year university if someone from the program had not reached out to them personally and sparked this attainable dream.

Geared toward serving all incoming students who attend COD full time, EDGE/plEDGE works to remove academic and social barriers many students face along with financial barriers preventing them from enrolling, persisting or succeeding in college. With a dream-making three-pronged approach, it encompasses college-prep review in math and English, counseling and student support services and tuition assistance for local high school graduates, helping them achieve their educational and career goals.

Enrolling students are encouraged to “Get the EDGE and take the plEDGE!” Completing the EDGE summer bridge facet to solidify their math and English skills is a requirement to receive free tuition and fees for two years through the plEDGE aspect of the program. EDGE and plEDGE are two pieces of the same puzzle that give students an EDGE into higher education while making a financial plEDGE to help them complete it. And the COD Foundation is proud to support this invaluable programming by providing $1.25 million per year.

What Gives Them the EDGE?

The mission of EDGE (Engage, Develop, Grow, Empower) is to remove barriers, increase student success and mitigate achievement gaps in access, persistence and completion. The program addresses many aspects including equipping students for the community college experience, from academic skills and course load counseling to financial aid and emotional well-being.

Beginning with informative outreach in English and Spanish about COD’s educational opportunities, EDGE supports incoming students every step of the way through to graduation. Their smooth transition into college life kicks off with a structured onboarding process that includes registration and financial aid assistance.

A summer bridge component prepares them for college and college-level coursework. Students participate in a rigorous review during this fast-paced refresher, attend counseling sessions, learn about campus resources and build connections with faculty and staff before they begin their academic journey.

EDGE Was Inspired to Make Education Accessible

When EDGE started in 2012, it was a Title V Hispanic Serving Institution pilot program focused on helping Hispanic students with remedial education. The program was designed to address student learning and success outcomes for Hispanic, low-income and first-generation college students who placed below college-level coursework on the assessment test.

During its first summer, the EDGE program was offered exclusively at the Indio campus with just 22 students. “We realized the students were doing fantastic and the results were great,” says Katie Chartier, Assistant Director, First Year Experiences, who was once a COD student herself.

The program services grew and its footprint expanded each year, first to the Palm Desert and Palm Springs locations followed by Mecca-Thermal and Desert Hot Springs, taking the program to the students instead of the students having to travel to the program. By 2016, EDGE served about 650 students, who were benefitting through persistence and graduation rates. In addition, it also made a positive impact on their student experience and career outlook, thanks to collaborative efforts by EDGE faculty, counselors and staff.

Adding a plEDGE to the EDGE

In 2017, COD introduced the plEDGE program as the perfect partner to EDGE’s incredible five-year outcomes and doubled the program participation in the process. To date, 7,879 students have benefitted and an average of 1,500-1,800 eager new students enter the program each year.

While EDGE had effectively addressed students’ academic and social barriers, financial barriers still prevented many from enrolling or succeeding. To break down this final impediment, plEDGE was instituted to provide free tuition and fees for two years to any full-time student who graduated from a local high school, completed the EDGE program, performed 10 hours of community service and attended one career-focused workshop per academic year. Students must also stay in good academic standing and have a completed financial aid file.

With EDGE and plEDGE joining forces, students were now prepared and supported on another level from their first interaction with COD through their proudest moments at graduation.

At the heart of this multi-faceted program is ensuring students are not alone in this journey. Surrounding them with a caring, pro-active network of faculty, staff, counselors and bilingual outreach specialists buoys them and underscores their efforts. “No matter what kind of questions they have, or if they simply want someone to talk to, they have someone at COD to listen and help move them in the right direction,” Chartier says.

The plEDGE program empowered program staff to amplify their outreach efforts, which continues to this day. They take the message that COD offers academic skills enhancement, student development services and free tuition into area high schools. Bilingual specialists help students and their parents complete the COD and financial aid applications. They bring them to campus for a day and assist with all matriculation steps before they begin the summer EDGE program and become official plEDGE students.

“Those steps really help students stay on track,” Chartier says. “They already know most of the staff once classes start. They value those relationships, and they’re committed to their dreams of pursuing an education and a career they love.”

“Our EDGE/plEDGE Programs fulfills our mission, boost college-going rates in our community and help change the lives of our students and their families.” | Dr. Martha Garcia

Student Success, Valley Success

“The EDGE/plEDGE program is a game changer!” shares Christine Anderson, President, COD Foundation Board of Directors. “Students applying to the program are ones we normally would not see because they are the ones who are already working night and day to support their families. They will use the knowledge and skills they receive to propel them into careers they only dreamed about. Their ‘What if’s…?’ become ‘I did it!’ ”

Chartier mentions that while the EDGE/plEDGE community service requirement is just 10 hours, this is often where students discover their passion. “The community organizers will tell us, ‘This student has been here for months now because they just love it,” she says. “After COD, some go on to earn their four-year degree then come back and serve the community all because they volunteered with this organization or met a certain person. And I think that’s been very impactful for the Valley.”

Candid student feedback has shaped the program into what it is today: an award-winning model for fellow institutions aiming to position students for success both in college and in their local communities. Information gleaned from conversations and surveys drive program goals and helps improve EDGE/plEDGE to meet students’ every need. The program is also evaluated each year, informing the staff and COD administrators that it is increasingly effective at serving all students, including Hispanic/Latino students, which account for 6,855 of the 7,879 total students served since inception.

EDGE students not only have higher fall to spring persistence, but they also have higher fall to fall, and fall to second spring persistence rates. EDGE/plEDGE students complete more units in their first semester (9.5) than their non-EDGE/plEDGE counterparts (7) and complete more units in their first year (17.2 compared to 12). plEDGE students also have a higher three-year completion rate than non-plEDGE students.

“A lot of students come back to tell us the support EDGE/plEDGE provided helped them to graduate in a timely manner, something they couldn’t have done without the guidance or if they had to worry about the cost of tuition,” Chartier says. Moreover, she adds, COD inspired them to believe in themselves. “From here, they go on to impart inspiration to the community where they become actively involved, making it an even better place for us all.”

Due to the skills-building of the summer bridge, these students are also academic performers during college, which boosts their self-esteem and motivation. Students aren’t shy about their gratitude. “If I hadn’t enrolled in EDGE/PLEDGE program, I would be lost in college right now. Thank you, College of the Desert!” read one student survey. “I can plan on graduating faster now because I took EDGE for math,” shared another.

The EDGE/plEDGE Program relies upon the partnership with the COD Foundation and its many donors including The Richard Brooke Foundation, The Donald and Peggy Cravens Foundation and countless others to support its success with up to $1.25 million per year.

“What we hear from students most is, ‘I didn’t know I could go to school. I didn’t know that someone would help me. I didn’t know it could be this easy to transition into COD. I didn’t know somebody actually cared enough to follow up with me and wants me to succeed,” Chartier says. “We strive to make sure that every student feels like they have the support system and a network of people who are here to help them succeed and follow their dreams. We’re cheering them on the whole way and providing them with everything we can.”

Supporting EDGE/plEDGE Students’ Dreams

In the future, Chartier says, the program would like to be able to provide textbooks to all students, which would eliminate a barrier for those who can’t buy them due to the expense. “Textbooks often average $500-$1,000 per semester and many of our students are supporting their families,” she says. “Other students need a laptop, whether to enroll in online courses or complete work outside of class. Fees for nursing students and essential software for digital or visual programs also present challenges. The COD Foundation would love to be able to provide tuition support along with free textbooks and assistance with these supplemental costs. That would be very, very beneficial to students if someday we can remove every last barrier for them.”

In the meantime, as support for EDGE/plEDGE grows, “our students are advocating for the program and COD wherever they go, spreading the word and encouraging other students to enroll because they see the value and the impact that COD has had on their lives,” Chartier says. “Seeing students around the Valley wearing their plEDGE shirts and promoting the program is a success story in itself.”

The Helping Hands Behind EDGE/plEDGE

The EDGE/plEDGE team includes Outreach Specialists who provide bilingual outreach services, from recruiting to onboarding support. Oftentimes, these specialists are one of the first COD staff members potential students meet and interact with. Presentations at local high schools spark a fire of interest, educating students and their parents about COD and the opportunities. Some attendees had been considering COD; others didn’t realize there would be a path for them to obtain higher education.

Many EDGE staff members are former College of the Desert students who are eager to share their own success stories with potential students, creating an instantaneous and deeper connection with them and their families. “The faculty members who work on this program are so dedicated; students bond with them, which creates our high persistence rates. Faculty keep that connection going long after graduation; the students still seek their advice. Those students are always going to be their students and our students,” adds Chartier.

“In meeting the needs of the students, we’re constantly asking, ‘How can we help? How can we change? What do you need? What can we do?” Chartier adds. “Adding evening sessions, for example, increased our adult learner population and our workshops are based on student feedback, not merely what we think they want. We’re pro-active. If a student has an incomplete financial aid file, we’re calling them and saying, ‘What do you need for us to complete this file?’ “

Measurable goals propel the team forward each year as they work to increase access, success, persistence and completion, prepare students for college- level coursework and promote equity for minority, low-income and first-generation students. “This program is always evolving. We’re able to make adjustments based on what the data is saying, how the students are doing and what they tell us they need.”

Giving Students an EDGE Even During COVID

During the COVID-19 pandemic, EDGE 2020 quickly adjusted from its three-week, in-person format to a two-week program conducted fully online via Canvas and Zoom. All 2020 EDGE students were required to take both math and English EDGE in an asynchronous format to help them maintain focus during especially challenging times.

In the student development section, students learned how to manage their time as well as their physical and mental health. They received help with gaining financial aid and met with a COD counselor regarding class selection.

New math software allowed for a more individualized approach to math review, while EDGE math faculty connected with each student via Zoom to answer any questions. When technology was a hurdle, the college quickly stepped up to provide loaner laptops and Wi- Fi hotspots to students who needed that support.

An Award-Winning Initiative

While making an impact locally and regionally, this program is also making waves on a national level as a model for fellow community colleges that aim to support underserved students and set them up for success.

In 2018, a year after the addition of pl/EDGE, the program was scaled to serve 80% of all incoming students.

That same year, College of the Desert won a 2018 Bellwether Award for its innovative EDGE Program. (The annual Bellwether Awards are part of the Community College Futures Assembly, established in 1995 and sponsored by the Institute of Higher Education at the University of Florida. The prestigious national awards – given in three categories, with 10 finalists in each – focus on innovative programs that other colleges might consider replicating. College of the Desert was the only college nominated in two categories, winning in the Instructional Programs & Service category.)

Just this past September, COD learned it was the only community college in California to be named a National Finalist in the 2021 Examples of Excelencia, presented by Excelencia in Education. The award acknowledges programs dedicated to accelerating Latino student success in higher education and the EDGE/plEDGE program was specifically recognized for those efforts.

“It is an honor to be recognized for College of the Desert’s efforts to close equity gaps and provide support to Latino students. The success of our Latino students brings benefits to the entire Coachella Valley and the workforce as a whole.” – Dr. Martha Garcia, Superintendent/President

For more information on how to support our EDGE/plEDGE program, please contact Matt Durkan, Director of Development at 760.773.2561 or by e-mail at mdurkan@collegeofthedesert.edu.

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