November 14th, 2023
New Education Coalition Catalyzing Change in College and Career Readiness
In an unprecedented show of cooperation, nine Charlotte-Mecklenburg nonprofits have formed the Crescent Coalition, a collaboration to support under-resourced students along their educational journey. For too long, nonprofits such as these have tried to change students’ futures alone, but the task is daunting.
The graduation rate for students in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) has declined from 88% in 2015 to 83.6% in 2022. Even after graduation, only 30% of students enrolled in Charlotte’s area colleges graduate on time (Opportunity Compass, 2023). Yet, the Opportunity Task Force report, released in 2017, identified that improving students’ college and career readiness would be essential for changing the future of local upward mobility. Despite its importance, persistent barriers continue to exist for students pursuing college and career pathways.
Two Executive Directors – Dr. Michael Friedland (Friedland Foundation) and Aaron Randolph (Carolina Youth Coalition) – wondered how much more of an impact they could make on students’ lives if college and career readiness organizations could form a collaborative network.
“We noticed that an unintentional collaboration by multiple organizations helped one of our students overcome challenging circumstances, and we reasoned that a structured network of support could be incredibly powerful for many more students”, says Aaron Randolph, Executive Director of Carolina Youth Coalition.
Randolph teamed up with Dr. Friedland to create the Crescent Coalition, named after a pattern of neighborhood segregation –“the crescent and wedge”– that has defined Charlotte and, far too-often, students’ outcomes for decades.
Comprised of nine nonprofit partners, the Crescent Coalition – Carolina Youth Coalition, Friedland Foundation, Gardhouse, GenOne, Greater Steps Scholars, Road to Hire, The Academy of Goal Achievers, UrbanPromise, and Wayfinders – convened for the first time in February 2022. As Ian Joyce, Executive Director of GenOne shared, “The general camaraderie and community for leaders of emerging college and career readiness organizations has made this work far less lonely, as we lean into each other’s expertise when we are experiencing challenges.”
Equitable, a leading financial services company, and Leading on Opportunity provided start-up resources so that Crescent Coalition partners could focus on maximizing the impact of nine unique organizations tackling common challenges together. Equitable offered support through Equitable Foundation, the company’s charitable giving arm. “The first meeting of the Crescent Coalition was powerful,” recalled Dr. Virginia Covill, Deputy Director of Leading on Opportunity. “The group was immediately committed to breaking down silos so that they could have a greater collective impact on students’ college and career readiness outcomes.”
“College access and career readiness are key areas of priority in Equitable’s work to build stronger communities,” said Jarian Kerekes, Head of Social Impact and Community Engagement at Equitable. “Additionally, Charlotte, N.C. is home to one of our largest offices—making it an area of interest in for us, so connecting our resources and big systems to this unique coalition was a no-brainer.”
Along with collaboration, the Coalition organizations are committed to sharing best practices and information. Randolph reflects, “It sends a powerful message to our community, and even the youth we serve, that we can set aside any egos and work together toward the larger goal of increasing opportunities for post-secondary pathways throughout our city.”
The Crescent Coalition benefits all students because we can collaborate on programs and services that will help them thrive, said GenOne’s Joyce.”
In its first year, the Coalition created shared goals, participated in professional development together at the National College Attainment Network (NCAN), and coordinated shared college tours for more than 100 students. Equitable’s support of Crescent Coalition was key to ensuring that the members could attend and collaborate at NCAN, a membership and advocacy association focused on closing equity gaps in postsecondary attainment for all students. In addition to underwriting registration for all Crescent Coalition Members, Equitable has made NCAN membership available at no cost to members each year.
The coalition is eager to sustain and build upon its early success. Last month, the Crescent Coalition hosted speakers from the College Foundation of North Carolina (CFNC) to help approximately 200 families learn about navigating financial aid and paying for postsecondary pathways, including where to find resources for scholarships, such as Equitable Excellence®.
“Our team at Equitable is pleased to have played a role in the CFNC night and we are looking forward to hosting other college access collaborations with the coalition that help provide pathways to postsecondary access for students in our community,” Kerekes said.
Hosting the event as a coalition allowed the participating organizations to share staff and other event costs, and most importantly allows them to reach more families. “My hope is that the Crescent Coalition can grow, sustain and become a model for collaboration that other nonprofit sectors in Charlotte can look to as a way to tackle the complex challenges facing youth and families today,” Randolph says.
Partnering organizations of the Crescent Coalition include Carolina Youth Coalition, Friedland Foundation, GardHouse, GenOne Charlotte, Greater Steps Scholars, Road to Hire, The Academy of Goal Achievers, Inc , Urban Promise, and Wayfinders.