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2019 Impact Report: Replicating Results, Serving More Students

College Beyond freshman Megan Stackhouse

With our fourth annual Impact Report, the College Beyond team is excited to share that College Beyond’s students closed the freshman retention gap at the University of New Orleans for the second year in a row.

Last year, we announced that our students accomplished this for a first time by increasing their retention rate by over 20 percentage points. This year, we replicated those results while serving more students.

This means that our students — who face longer-than-average odds of college graduation — are persisting in college at the same (actually, a slightly higher!) rate than their more privileged peers.

Download the full report here.

The report also details some exciting organizational changes at College Beyond, and introduces our new Executive Director, Dr. Erin Wheeler.

None of this would be possible without the students, families, staff, board members, and supporters who invest their time, hearts, and resources in this work every day. Many thanks and kudos to all for your dedication!

College Beyond Welcomes Local College Persistence Leader as New Executive Director

College Beyond’s Board of Directors is delighted to announce that Dr. Erin Wheeler, of Amite, LA, has been tapped to serve as the organization’s second Executive Director.

Dr. Erin Wheeler

A higher education innovator with over a decade of leadership in college success administration and social entrepreneurship, Dr. Wheeler began her tenure on August 5.

As a first-generation college student, Dr. Wheeler attended Southeastern Louisiana University, earning a B.S. in biology and serving as an advocate for her peers on the path to college completion. Passionate about both the value of higher education and about access and completion in STEM fields among underrepresented groups, Dr. Wheeler went on to earn an M.S. in biology and a Ph.D. in STEM Education from Southern University and A&M College.

At Louisiana State University, Dr. Wheeler served in the Center for Academic Success, helping students improve their learning and performance in tough STEM courses and supporting faculty to integrate effective teaching strategies into STEM curricula.

At LSU, she also led collaborative grant writing projects, retention initiatives, and faculty workshops that included the Colleges of Science and Engineering, and facilitated collaborations with residential life, multicultural affairs, and student life to provide holistic programming for students. She was responsible for innovating marketing and outreach efforts to increase the number of students utilizing tutoring and academic coaching services by implementing social media use, updating branding, and establishing engaging outreach activities.  She used her passion and talent for developing student leaders in revamping training and evaluation for the tutor and supplemental instruction programs. Dr. Wheeler also made significant contributions to campus wide retention initiatives that included the national renowned IMPACT program that targets students on academic probation.

Her achievements and leadership at LSU helped her to be recruited to join a new administration at Kentucky State University.  As part of President Raymond Burse’s transformation team, Dr. Wheeler was charged with re-envisioning the student success infrastructure to dramatically improve declining retention and graduation rates.   As Assistant Provost for Student Success and Retention, she made significant strides in improving institutional culture and metrics related to student success. Through a multifaceted strategic plan based on research, high-impact practices and embodied innovation, she was able to help the institution increase retention rates from 45% to 78% within two years.

After returning home to Louisiana, Dr. Wheeler continued her commitment to impacting individual college success by founding both a business which uses technology and an innovative business model to make college coaching services financially accessible to more first-generation, minority, and/or low-income students, and also by establishing a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing out-of-school programming to resource constrained rural communities like her hometown of Amite.

Dr. Wheeler has also served her community through various civic and religious organizations since childhood.  Currently, she is a board member and chief of staff of her mission-focused church, where she helps organize outreach events and capital campaigns.  She is also a charter member of a new chapter of Delta Sigma Theta that emphasizes resourcing rural areas of North Tangipahoa Parish. She is a regular volunteer at local high schools to help improve college preparation as well as to provide general support and assistance.

The College Beyond Board and staff wish Dr. Wheeler a warm welcome!

College Beyond Bids Farewell to Paris Woods

Nearly five years after its founding, College Beyond’s Board and team are wishing a fond farewell to Co-founder and Executive Director Paris Woods.

Outgoing Co-founder and Executive Director Paris Woods

Under Woods’s leadership, College Beyond forged a landmark partnership with the University of New Orleans. Through rigorous, data-driven and student-responsive programming, College Beyond closed the first-year retention gap between its participants–students from low-income and first-generation backgrounds in New Orleans–and the overall student population at UNO.

“I am very proud of the outcomes we have achieved through the tireless effort of our students and the dedication of our staff at College Beyond and our partners at UNO,” said Paris Woods. “Together, we are changing the narrative about what is possible in our city.”

“We are incredibly grateful for Paris’s leadership and impact as Co-founder and Executive Director of College Beyond,” said Board Chair Ben Kleban. “We have been inspired by her commitment to excellence and ability to tackle any challenge. Having raised nearly a million dollars in support of local youth, Paris has built an organization that fills a unique and highly needed role in the college access landscape of our city.”

Woods and co-founder, Sarah Payne, were selected to participate in several local nonprofit incubators including the 4.0 Schools Essentials and Launch programs, and the Propeller Startup and Growth accelerators. Woods tied for 1st place in the 2015 PitchNOLA Education competition, helped College Beyond become 1 of 6 inaugural recipients of the national Boulder Fund, and is a current member of the national Pahara NextGen Fellowship cohort.

“Our model is unique because it is open-access, and our students have proven that with adequate support, they are just as capable of succeeding in college as their more advantaged peers,” Woods added. “And none of this would be possible without the leading support of partners like the GPOA Foundation, Entergy Charitable Foundation, Education Leaders of Color (EdLoC), the RosaMary, Keller, and Mary Freeman Wisdom family foundations, Pro Bono Publico, and the Oscar J. Tolmas Charitable Trust, who know that the future of New Orleans depends upon investing in the success of our most vulnerable youth today.”

Woods’s tenure in New Orleans college access work began as Director of Alumni Support at Cohen College Prep High School, where her efforts resulted in Cohen becoming the #1 open enrollment high school sending students to college. At Cohen, Woods helped 100% of students complete the FAFSA and was later selected to serve on the state’s Financial Aid Working Group, whose work helped Louisiana become the #1 state for FAFSA submissions nationwide.

College Beyond wishes Paris the very best in her future endeavors and looks forward to expanding the impact of its mission to help local students enroll and succeed in college.

Baptist Community Ministries Makes 3-Year Investment

College Beyond is delighted to announce that local philanthropic foundation Baptist Community Ministries (BCM) has made a $300,000, 3-year grant to College Beyond through its Transom Grants program.

BCM’s milestone gift supports program development and expansion of services for eligible first- and second-year students at the University of New Orleans.

Founded in 1995, Baptist Community Ministries is one of the largest philanthropic organizations in Louisiana, serving five parishes in the Greater New Orleans Region. Learn more about BCM here.

Kresge Foundation Grant will Expand the College Beyond Program at UNO

The Kresge Foundation will provide a $75,000 grant to supplement the University of New Orleans and College Beyond partnership. College Beyond has been supporting students on the UNO campus since 2016. With this grant from the Kresge Foundation, College Beyond will be able to support up to 100 additional UNO students in its coaching program during the upcoming school year. Read more here !

Welcome, Mia Gonzales Washington!

College Beyond is delighted to welcome Mia Gonzales Washington to our team.

A New Orleans native, Mia comes to College Beyond with more than a decade of experience educating and coaching New Orleans students in K-12 and higher education institutions. She joins the organization as a College Success Coach focused on supporting our students at the University of New Orleans.

You can learn more about Mia on our Who We Are page.

Welcome, Mia!

College Beyond Students take Capitol Hill!

College Beyond’s founding college success coach, Erica Martinez, and four New Orleans students traveled to Capitol Hill to learn about advocacy and speak with congressional leaders about key educational topics. Three of the students attend University of New Orleans, and one attends Southeastern Louisiana University. The four students are all first-generation college students, and are active on their respective campuses. College Beyond is thankful to the National College Access Network (NCAN) for providing the funding for the students to travel to Washington, D.C. NCAN works to empower communities that are committed to college access for all. They aim to ensure all students, especially those who are underrepresented, can achieve their educational dreams through a higher education institution.

Read more about the College Beyond students and their experience in Washington D.C. in this Nola.com and Big Easy Magazine feature!

2018 Impact Report: Closing the Freshman Retention Gap

 The College Beyond team is delighted to share our third annual Impact Report, which contains exciting news: last year, College Beyond’s students closed the freshman retention gap at the University of New Orleans, increasing retention by more than 20 percentage points.

As this year’s report details, closing the retention gap is hugely meaningful in the lives of the individual students we serve — but it also changes the narrative about what is possible in our city more broadly.

Download the full report here.

None of this would be possible without the students, families, staff, board members, and supporters who invest their time, hearts, and resources in this work every day. Many thanks and kudos to all for your dedication!




Paris Woods Joins Pahara NextGen Fellowship Cohort

Our executive director, Paris Woods, was selected to participate in the Fall 2018 cohort of the Pahara NextGen Fellowship this year. Pahara is a 12-month leadership program that equips leaders to strengthen and shape the future of the educational excellence and equity movement. It is important to cultivate and support leaders who represent communities that are currently not well served by our public schools. The fellowship is an amazing opportunity that will equip individuals to amplify underrepresented voices and support those who will become senior leaders in the educational field. Click here to learn more about Pahara.