The first two times Ashley Porter tried college, it didn't stick.
The McHenry native wasn't committed to her education. She didn't feel connected to her school. She realized she was wasting time and the precious little money she had. But when Porter became a mother, she knew she had to go back.
Thanks to the financial, academic and personal support she's receiving from One Million Degrees, Porter will earn her associate degree in May and transfer to a four-year school in the fall.
"Before, life got in the way and I allowed myself to be mentally and emotionally consumed with other things," Porter, 29, said. "This program has made me part of a community that has high standards and holds me accountable."
One Million Degrees empowers low-income, highly motivated community college students to succeed in school, in work and in life. Now, the Chicago-based nonprofit organization is expanding its scope into the Northwest suburbs through a partnership with Harper College.
Harper College President Dr. Ken Ender learned about the comprehensive scholarship program through Melissa Bean, president and CEO at the Executives' Club of Chicago and vice chair of the board at OMD.
Ender knew the need was there given the changing demographics in Harper College's district. In the last five years, there's been an 83 percent increase in Pell grants and the amount of financial aid awarded to Harper students has more than doubled to $12 million.
"There's a myth that poverty doesn't exist in the Northwest suburbs," OMD CEO Paige Ponder said. "We know the importance of building the capacity to effectively support these highly motivated, low-income students."
The goal is to recruit a cohort of up to 40 Harper students for the fall 2014 semester. Kris Hoffhines, director of the program at Harper, said the scholars will benefit from private tutoring, a personal coach, monthly professional development workshops, financial literacy training and financial assistance.
"One Million Degrees provides a community and support network that can be critical to the success of our students," Hoffhines said.
OMD scholars are graduating from community colleges at a rate of 70 percent – three times the national average – and transferring to four-year colleges and universities or entering the workforce in high-demand fields.
Porter, who'll graduate in May from Olive-Harvey College in Chicago, plans to go into social work and focus on helping children of abuse.
"I've never felt so much passion and drive for anything ever before," she said.