Beyond mentoring the Center’s Partners for Change fellows, Palmer is also addressing one of the more intractable issues in the world of college access—community college retention. “The majority of the students I work with fall into the community college base,” Palmer says. “You want to feel you’re sending them off into an environment where they are going to be successful.” Yet this success is often elusive. At the City University’s community colleges, for instance, only 3.4 percent of students achieve their associate’s degree within two years, and the six-year graduation rate is 28 percent, according to City University data.
Palmer recently launched the Bronx Opportunity Network, an alliance of eight community-based organizations focused on improving community college outcomes. The network is piloting a project to provide 120 community college students with intensive one-to-one coaching, tutoring, and skills workshops. “The goal is to see whether students who receive the intensive support are more successful at staying in school and graduating than their peers,” Palmer says, adding that project results could help determine additional services that community colleges could offer to support their students.
As a New York Life leader in residence, Palmer’s goal is to align a larger community of professionals around this issue, using the Bronx Opportunity Network as a springboard. Palmer launched this effort with a two-hour roundtable discussion at Citi Foundation’s educational conference, “Building College Access Over the Next 365 Days.” Now leaders at the NYC Department of Education and CUNY are talking with the goal of figuring out an aspect to tackle together. “The question is what can we do; what can CUNY do; and what can the Department of Education do to provide a greater collaborative effort to support this group?” Palmer says.
Breaking the Cycle of Poverty
The daughter of two college professors, Palmer grew up understanding almost innately the value of a college degree. Working for three years as a teacher in the Inwood section of Manhattan through Teach for America further shaped her understanding that a college education is a key link to breaking the cycle of poverty. “We know that a student who completes one year of college is going to make a [5 to 8 percent] more over a lifetime than someone who just graduates from high school,” says Palmer. “You can just look at levels of educational attainment and see the way economic stability improves.” (Palmer says she also embraces other types of post-secondary training as viable paths out of poverty.)
The chance to generate excitement about college access and encourage civic engagement among CCNY students motivates Palmer’s work at the Center. So does the idea creating change on a broader scale. “This residency has forced me to step out of my box and try to get peers and colleagues I speak with all of the time to think about core issues we all know exist and ask how do we address them. So I think this has pushed me to think bigger than my small office in the Bronx.”