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Rodney and Rayvon Braziel celebrate Rayvon’s high school graduation.

Rodney Braziel

Rodney Braziel is pursuing a bachelor’s degree at the University of Toledo this spring after a two-decade hiatus from college. He always planned to return to college and complete his last semester and graduate, but as a working parent supporting a family and raising four children, it never felt like the right time. Everything changed when Braziel, 44, and his 18-year-old son, Rayvon, were offered dual scholarships to attend college at the same time.

Father and son enrolled this academic year—Rayvon is a freshman at Ohio State University, and Rodney is a senior at the University of Toledo—and have been helping each other through the transition.

“He just helps to keep me centered and keeps me grounded and gives me a bigger goal to reach as far as grades,” Rodney said. “He keeps me on point.”

Rayvon has benefited from his father’s advice and tips on how to make to-do lists, cope with stress and prioritize tasks. And a little friendly competition doesn’t hurt.

“I know I always want to best my dad, of course,” he laughed.

The Braziels’ education is being funded by HOPE Toledo, a nonprofit that offered scholarships—covering tuition, books and room and board—to members of the graduating classes of 2020 and 2021 at the local Jesup W. Scott High School and their parents. Since the organization launched in January 2020, 120 students out of 200 graduates and about 12 parents have begun pursuing degrees at partner colleges and universities in Ohio.

HOPE Toledo is one of a handful of recent admissions initiatives and scholarships launched nationally designed to bring students and their family members to college in hopes of improving college completion rates and lifting whole families out of poverty, as multiple members earn degrees that can lead to higher wages. Leaders of these efforts hope this multigenerational approach to college access is the start of a new trend in higher ed.

“To have a multigenerational impact, you need to do a multigenerational program,” said the Reverend John Jones, president and CEO of HOPE Toledo. “Education is the civil rights issue of our era … We’re hopeful that this creates a sea change across the industry, because we know how critical it is for that to happen.”

Anne Mosle, vice president of the Aspen Institute and executive director of Ascend, an institute program focused on economic mobility, said such multigenerational approaches are grounded in previous efforts by colleges and universities over the last decade or so to recruit and retain students with families and provide educational resources for their children to ensure the parents stay enrolled.

“The power of education, especially, is one of the most important indicators of economic mobility, financial security and ultimately well-being,” she said.

Mosle said higher ed leaders and policy makers asked themselves, “If we’re going to ensure the American dream, and the American dream can pass from one generation to the next and education is central to that, what would it look like if we started combining for children and the adults in their lives the power of education?”

One of the philanthropists behind HOPE Toledo also committed seed funding to a similar venture called HOPE Chicago, a nonprofit launched last fall that provides similar scholarships to students and parents in that city. So far, the organization has offered the scholarship to approximately 4,000 high school students at five public high schools in Chicago, including about 950 seniors graduating this year and their parents. Starting next fall, students and their parents will be able to enroll at partner colleges, universities and technical schools in Illinois.

Janice Jackson, chief executive director of HOPE Chicago, characterized these types of initiatives as “a new field that offers a lot of promise.”

Jackson said she was “blown away” by the response to the Chicago program; more than 600 parents of high school seniors have already shown interest in participating.

Students and parents who earn degrees are more likely to land higher-paying jobs, which can benefit other family members, as well.

“This intervention is going to impact their ability to support their family. [It] should impact or lead to higher income levels, and that’s going to have a positive impact on the entire family,” she said.

Jackson hopes efforts like HOPE Chicago also boost college retention rates. Parents can take courses part-time, but their children must be enrolled full-time for their parents to continue receiving the funding.

“Knowing that their futures are tied together” gives students and parents extra incentive to stay enrolled, she said.

Michael Sorrell, president of Paul Quinn College, noted that students and family members pursuing higher education together can “lean on each other and draw on each other” for support.

Paul Quinn this spring announced plans to admit Pell Grant–eligible seniors with a 3.0 GPA or higher, along with up to two relatives, starting next fall. The seniors will come from five high schools in the Fort Worth Independent School District, and the participating family members will be able to take courses online or through PQCx, the college’s credentialing and upskilling program.

So many school leaders and school district officials showed interest in the initial pilot program that Paul Quinn expanded it to all admitted students who met the GPA and financial aid criteria for this upcoming fall. And starting in fall 2023, all incoming students who meet the requirements will be able to bring two family members with them to college.

Jones, of HOPE Toledo, said students and parents in his program are helping each other clear the hurdles of college. For example, parents who struggle with course technology and establishing regular study habits can get support from their children, while children struggling with the transition from high school to college can draw motivation from their parents.

Darrell T. Allison, chancellor of Fayetteville State University, which is planning to offer a tuition scholarship to veterans and active military service members and their spouses and children starting next fall, said a multigenerational approach can be especially meaningful for the large military population his institution serves, which is heavily composed of older adult learners with families. The scholarship will cover any remaining cost, after military benefits are applied, under the tuition and fee structure of the North Carolina Promise college program.

Allison believes helping military spouses pursue higher education or freeing military families from worries about how to pay for their children’s education will lead to more college completions by military families.

Veterans and military service members often “don’t have a lot of time,” he said. “They’re not necessarily here for the football games and fraternities and sororities. They’re here to get it done. They gave their heart, soul and spirit to the military, and coming out, they want to redeem the time. And a lot of that is encased around family.”

Still, multigenerational programs come with unique challenges.

For one thing, there are logistical challenges to serving two very different populations of students, said Jackson, of HOPE Chicago. While younger incoming college students have high school counselors who can guide them through the admissions process, their parents don’t necessarily have the same level of support. HOPE Chicago is working to partner with community organizations to provide the one-on-one guidance many parents who start or return to college later in life are likely missing.

“We’re bringing together hundreds of people at different points in their life, at different points in their education career,” she said. “Of course the colleges that they’re going to offer support for adult learners and students, but we want to try to replicate the wraparound supports that students get from a high school counselor, or just an individual helping you make a decision about what pathway is best for you, and, more importantly, navigating whatever that application process looks like.”

For Rodney Braziel, returning to college has been a “totally different world.” Asynchronous courses, online textbooks and message boards for classes, for example, weren’t a part of his previous college experience. He’s had to embrace new technology and get back into the rhythm of studying.

Sorrell said the initial challenge is just getting family members to believe that the scholarship offer is real. He said low-income families often “make incredible sacrifices” to enable their kids to go to college and pin their hopes on them making it to college without considering the same opportunities for themselves.

“Far too many families have been made to believe that they only get one shot at this—one student, one person, one lucky individual,” he said. “It’s never been communicated that they, too, could be worthy of the experience. It’s changing a way of thinking.”

For that reason, he said getting even just five family members to enroll this upcoming fall would feel like a “win,” because changing families’ long-held perceptions about what’s possible for them takes time and requires “playing the long game.”

Sorrell hopes other colleges and universities will consider replicating Paul Quinn’s new multigenerational admissions model.

“We are trying to end the idea of first-generation college students,” he said. “I’d be ecstatic when there are no more first-generation college students … because everyone had the chance to complete college.”

For their part, Rodney and Rayvon Braziel are already thinking about graduate school. Rayvon hopes to eventually launch a political career, and Rodney is considering business school. Rodney currently drives a forklift, but he wants a job with better pay and hopes to ultimately grow his side business, a sports media company that covers regional high school games.

“Having an education will make it easier if I can get into a higher-paying job or a management position and use this as a stepping-stone,” he said.

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