Graduating from high school and determining a plan for the future can be challenging for any student. Those tasks can become more difficult, though, when students are homeless or have been in the foster care system.
With this in mind, Dawson Community College (DCC) recently announced Dawson Promise, a program aimed at helping typically underserved students – unaccompanied youth who are homeless or aging out of foster care – obtain a two-year education free of debt. Through Dawson Promise, DCC’s goal is to provide each student with year-round living accommodations, 10-15 hours of work per week, individualized mentoring, support from a community family, and an opportunity to learn from and be served by some of the best instructors and staff in Montana.
Dawson Promise is designed to make students feel welcome and supported on campus. As such, DCC has no desire to roll out a formal application for the program. Instead, we plan to work closely with school counselors, child advocacy groups, and other stakeholders to identify prospective students who may benefit from and be eligible for Dawson Promise.
“We’d like to have these students come from a warm handoff from counselors or foster groups,” said Leslie Weldon, DCC’s Vice President of Advancement and Human Resources. “We want to ensure that no one gets lost in any paperwork shuffle.”
Students can also be considered for the Dawson Promise program through information pulled from their financial aid forms, specifically the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). However, filling out these forms can be especially difficult for some unaccompanied youth, as they need to have access to family tax and income information. Weldon pointed out that this is another reason that the “warm handoff” is so important. DCC’s Financial Aid staff will provide students assistance with filing their FAFSA whenever necessary.
Students will work with DCC’s Financial Aid Department to find a combination of grants, scholarships, and student employment to pay for tuition, fees, housing, and meals so students are able to graduate debt-free. Employment will be offered through a variety of areas: maintenance, food service, athletics, the library, enrollment, residence halls, industry partnerships, or wherever else an opportunity may be provided.
Once students have been identified, DCC hopes to remove any other barriers they may have to attending college and completing a degree. Housing was identified as a top priority. Weldon said DCC decided to keep residence halls open year-round so students always have a safe place to stay as long as they are enrolled in school. Additionally, through Dawson Promise, students can live on campus and begin their coursework in the summer semester immediately following high school completion.
“Those three months between high school graduation and the start of fall semester are key,” Weldon said. “We thought it was important to provide students housing and the opportunity to begin their education right away. Our goal is to help students end their cycle of homelessness and begin building a foundation for their future.”
Through Dawson Promise, students will be provided a mentor who will help them navigate the admissions process; introduce them to their academic advisor; enroll them in our Adopt-a-Buc program, which pairs students with a host family in the community; and prepare them for applying for a job on campus. Additionally, our human resources team will assist students with resume writing and interviewing techniques. On-campus employers will provide further mentorship to help students understand what it means to be a good employee.
“Once students leave DCC, we want them to have a portfolio to take to prospective employers and other institutions of higher education,” Weldon said.
Students’ portfolios will include letters of recommendation, transcripts, and a credit history statement showing that all of their school bills had been paid in full.
“We have consulted with several potential partners as we were developing the program,” Weldon said. “They were all very positive about the idea.”
Weldon and the rest of DCC’s staff and administration are excited about the possibilities Dawson Promise opens up for students who may have limited opportunities to continue their education.
“It’s just the right thing to do,” said Weldon.
For more information on Dawson Promise, please contact Leslie Weldon at 406-377-9412 or firstname.lastname@example.org.