Study on Louisiana TOPS Program Reveals Ethnic and Income Gaps…Why I’m not Surprised.

graduation hat and money

A recent Advocate article reveals that a majority of the TOPS Scholarships recipients are from white, high income families. While Higher Education administrators see numbers, I have an on the ground perspective.  From this view, I am not surprised by what they found. While I am a proponent on policy changes to help increase access for minority and low-come students, I believe you can see results quicker if you create your own success.  I created E_Source Learning Solutions for those low-income and/or minority families who want to create their own college success.  However, for every one student that I see that has a solid college plan, I encounter several others that do not have one at all.  So these are the following observations that have caused me not to be surprised by the findings. Sadly, a majority of these observations do include the students from minority and/or low-income families.

  1. Many students wait to late to seriously prepare for the ACT.
  2. Many parents do not invest in ACT preparation whether it be in time or effort. There are many free preparation opportunities that are underutilized.
  3. Many students do not understand the value of receiving a thousands of dollars and what that means for their family and their future.
  4. Many parents are not fully aware of the TOPS requirements and rely on high school counselors to make sure their students meet those requirements.

In my humble opinion, the discrepancy is not the case of the have’s and have not’s is a situation of the know’s and know not’s, the do and do not’s. While most comments on this article are all over the place from racial discrimination to black fathers being in the household, I am more focused on personal accountability and practical solutions than theoretical conversations.

What it takes for Black males to graduate from college | Daytona Times

What it takes for Black males to graduate from college | Daytona Times.

Reading this article breaks my heart and affirms that what I do as college coach is important.  I hate to see the lack of support for clearly abled-bodied, motivated, disciplined African American males get lost in the bureaucracy of college.  If universities are serious about diversity, they have to surpass the superficial recruiting efforts to increase minority enrollment and fund comprehensive retention and graduation initiatives that address the cognitive, financial, social and emotional needs of underrepresented populations.



9 Things Nobody Tells You When You Start College

smiling student with bag and take away coffee cup

Between the high school college prep courses and college orientations, one would think that first-year college students would be well prepared for college. Between my own college experience and my experience with working with students, I know that this notion is not true!  While college prep or honor classes may prepare students academically and orientations give basic information about a lot of stuff, there are some practical information that students are not getting that can make a difference in the ease of the college transition.


1. Read and keep your syllabi.  A syllabus contains every thing your professor wants you to know about the course.  Through the syllabus, faculty inform students about topic schedules, exam and homework dates, office hours and class room code of conduct.  Be sure to note if your final exam is cumulative (covers the whole semester of information) or not.  Read your syllabus carefully and keep them in a convenient place. While asking for clarification is okay, asking questions that the syllabus can answer may annoy your professors.

2. Buy your textbooks and but look for deals. Another important thing that is found on your syllabus is the title of your textbook.  YOU NEED A TEXT BOOK NO MATTER WHAT YOUR PROFESSOR SAYS! Many students that I consult who are not doing well in their classes just rely on their notes and/or their professors notes.  Yes, textbooks are expensive, but they are critical for course success. There are several ways students can save money on purchasing textbooks.  Students can ditch the paper version and choose the digital version.  Try discount textbook sites such as Amazon, Chegg, TextbookRush, or  These sites offer buyback, rental and used purchased options.  Campus libraries may also have a copy of textbooks available.  For more ideas on how to save on textbooks, check out this article.

3. Use free campus tutorial services.  College is a game changer.  The perception of college tutorial services is vastly different from the perception of tutoring in high school.  Taking advantage of free tutoring is not a sign of weakness but it is sign of wisdom.  Students who take advantage of campus tutoring have higher grades and spend less time completing homework with lower levels of frustration.

4. Look for the free stuff! Get the most out of your tuition dollars.  They are so many things that you do not have to spend money on.  Besides free t-shirts and food, there are opportunities to travel to sporting events, conferences, leadership training, mission trips, and outdoor experiences.  Connect with your university campus life office, academic departments, student activities board, or student government association.  While most of the opportunities are offered to all students, many more are taken advantage of by students who are heavily involved in these organizations.

5. Where you sit in the class matters.  While sitting in a big lecture hall, you may feel like you are inconspicuous but professors are very observant.  Professors hold in high esteem those students who arrive on time, sit up front and are attentive.  This is the first step to developing critical relationships with you professors.  Building faculty relationships are important for gaining access career advice, internships and solid letters of recommendations for jobs or graduate schools.

6. Dropping and withdrawing from a class. You have the ability to remove a class from you schedule if difficulty arises.  Removing a class from your schedule during the 1st week of school is called dropping a class and doing this in the middle of the semester is called withdrawing.  Dropping a class does not show up on your transcript.  However, classes withdrawn from will be designated by a “W” instead of a grade on a transcript. Consult your academic adviser early on to decide if dropping or withdrawing from a class is the best alternative and will not interfere with your financial aid or academic status.Young african american student using a laptop - African people

7. Preview before class. Keeping up with a lecture can be overwhelming. You try to write big words neatly and quickly and translate what he/or she is saying all and attempt to understand all at the same time.  You may think professors are racing trying cover alot of difficult material; however, they think that you spent a little time going over the basics so they do not have to cover the simple stuff. Previewing before class can make lectures go a little smoother.  Previewing is NOT spending hours reading the chapter. Previewing is spending a little as 10 minutes watching a video, skimming and creating an outline. Try it and you’ll feel more confident and smarter in your classes.

8. GPA is calculated differently. In high school, all of your classes were all weighed the same (with maybe the exception of honors classes).  In college, some classes are given different credits depending on the number of hours you spend in class per week or the amount of effort.  A walking class or a laboratory class may be 1 credit hour versus a chemistry course that may be 3 credit hours.  An “A” in walking is not weighed the same as an “A” in chemistry.  If you have an “A” in walking , a “B” in English and in History, and a “C” in both math and chemistry in college, your GPA is a 2.6. Whereas, having the same grades in high school will yield a 2.8 GPA.  It may be a subtle difference, but when your GPA counts for so much in college 0.2 points really matters.  Try this handy GPA calculator .

9. Class enrollment alternatives. Scheduling courses is a juggling act.  You may not get the classes you need or want.  Instead becoming frustrated, students should inquire if their institution offers cross enrollment at nearby colleges and universities.  This means you remain a student your university but you take a course somewhere else.  Studying abroad also falls into this category.


College Bound: Fall College Prep Checklist for 9th Grade Students

College success is not an automatic occurrence; it has to be intentionally crafted and planned.  In my line of work, I often see high school seniors who are way behind the college prep curve.  Unfortunately, these students are usually in the underrepresented populations (minority, low-income, first-generation).  I truly believe knowledge is power. With that, I have made it a life goal to make sure families are equipped with the right knowledge, at the right time, to make a good decisions about their child’s future.

Starting as early as the 9th grade, there are important things that parents and students can do to facilitate the college planning process. While senior year is the year to sign, seal, and deliver, the freshman year is the time to lay the foundation for a career path, college choice, and scholarships.  9th grade is a great time of exploration. Students should be exploring career options, talents, hobbies, and co-curricular interests.

graduation and books and diplomaAcademic. Make sure students do not fall behind in their Algebra I course.  This course is important to success in other math courses in  both high school and college.  If at all possible, arrange for a couple hours of after school tutoring to make sure they understand the material and to build up their confidence. For Louisiana parents, make sure you understand TOPS requirements and double check your child’s schedule to make sure they are taking the correct courses. 

Parents Career paths signpostshould encourage students to write down a broad list of possible careers and research them.  If they need a little help, they can take a free career aptitude test that gives several possible career options base on personal interest and preferences. With or without incentive 🙂 , students can report back to parents on the results of their career search.  For each possible career option, students should find out the educational requirements, salary range, locations, and potential employers.  Thinking about career paths early on can help narrow down college choices later.

Financial & Social.  While scholarships are appropriate to tackle in the junior year, students can begin to sharpen their competitive edge by joining organizations early.  Scholarship application reviewers like to see that students have attained leadership skills and are well rounded students.  However, the first step in becoming an officer or leader in an organization is to join early and become a dedicated member. Make sure your student diversifies their co-curricular activities by joining one academic, athletic, community service or a special interest group.


Buying for Success: Rethink Your College Supply List

August is near and school supplies will be front and center in all major stores.  Of course, all the usual items (e.g. paper, notebooks, pencils, pens) will be on every college student’s list. However, there a several items that are perfect for studying that most students would not consider putting in their shopping carts. These items are great for keeping study time fun and attention focused.

Dry Erase Board

Dry erase boards help students take a break from the normal pencil and notebook routine.  They are perfect for working math problems, outlining material, learning formulas or re-drawing diagrams.  In addition to studying, erasable boards are great for writing to-do lists or reminders. Small white boards are useful to have handy while seated at a desk, while larger ones that can be posted on the wall are ideal for those students who like to stand and be active.

Photo Credit: Patrick Guarino

Dry Erase Markers

No room to hang a dry erase board? No problem! Improvise and use bathroom and closet mirrors (gain your roommate’s permission) .  Using dry erase markers, write important formulas or vocabulary that you need to commit to memory on mirrored surfaces so that you can review them every time you go into the bathroom or get dressed.

Big Sticky Notes


Photo Credit:


The running theme here is to try other writing products besides pencils and paper.  Instead of a lot of little sticky notes, try big sticky notes!  Large self-adhesive sheets can be posted safely on walls.  Students can use these to create large and colorful outlines, charts and diagrams or big bold reminders. Butcher paper can work just as well.



Photo Credit: Elizabeth Skene

Balance Ball

If you are the fidgety type or you fall asleep quickly in a seated position, you can swap your chair for a balance ball when sitting at your desk.  Trying to stabilize yourself on the ball is enough activity to keep you awake and focused.


Ear Plugs

Ear plugs are great if you like the visuals of studying in a public place but just a little bit of noise.  Ear plugs shut just enough sound out to create your own study vibe.  It is a great alternative to listening to music if it is too distracting.



Play Dough

Play dough is another creative study tool if you can’t keep still during study time.  Moving and shaping the dough in your hand while studying can also improve your concentration and focus.  In addition to study time, play dough is useful in class to replace the nosier, more distracting habit of tapping your pencils on desks.




Prepare your mind

Great read!


By Derek Jones

Feed your mind to increase your creativity


This simple recipe is an often-overlooked classic, central to all creative cognitive processes. It follows from research that considers creativity to be a simple outcome of a functioning conscious mind (Craft, 2001; Heilman, Nadeau & Beversdorf, 2003; Sawyer, 2011) – something that designers have been aware of (consciously or otherwise) for some time.

In his little book ‘A Technique for Producing Ideas’, Young (2003) considers the mind of a designer to be interested in all things; inquisitive, questioning, explorative. Take every opportunity that comes your way to do this and you will naturally engage in connecting and divergent thinking, which are two central cognitive functions for creative thinking (Heilman, Nadeau & Beversdorf, 2003; Abraham & Windmann, 2007).


View original post 595 more words

Who Graduates College? Take a guess!

I read a great New York Times post about how talented, low-income and minority students experience hardships on their path to getting their college degree. While the article highlights the socioeconomic gap that permeates college graduation rates, my message is clear: NO MATTER YOUR BACKGROUND, KNOWLEDGE and WISDOM fills any gap. As I have worked with hundreds of students as college academic coach, I see a pattern in those students who achieve and those students that don’t.  It’s not that they are incapable of doing these things, but no one has ever inform them of the best practices in getting a college education. Why aren’t they communicated is another discussion about whose job is it to REALLY prepare our student for college. There are 5 things students can do to overcome any educational hurdle and obtain a college degree. Unfortunately, these things are not communicated to parents and students and students walk blindly into college.

graduation hat and money

  1. Get involved in a bridge or transition program.  These programs are effective for so many reasons and many have proven to help retain and graduate more students from marginalize populations.
  2. Identify a peer, faculty, and staff mentor and foster a relationship.  Many low-income students are also the first to go to college in their immediate family, which means there are not as many people in their network to properly help them get adjusted to college.  However, establishing a mentoring relationships with faculty and staff can fill this gap.  Having a person of accountability and someone that can give you unbiased advice can help students remain focus and on track after theyencounter normal bumps and hurdles of college life.
  3. Utilize all campus resources especially academic support. This a biggie.  Tutorial services can be wrongfully thought of as remedial for some students.  However, students who use academic support services have higher grades than those that do not.
  4. Get involved in professional and social organizations.  Students who are social engaged on campus have a higher retention and graduation rate than those who just go to class and go home.
  5. Ask for help. With all the un-student friendly bureaucracy of college, a simple academic or financial aid issue can quickly snowball into a major problem.  Many times students feel helpless and don’t know who or where to turn. Simply asking for help or direction can make a huge difference.


Gifting for College Success: My 2014 Graduation Gift Guide


It’s May. It’s the month for mothers and graduates. If you are like me, you are probably tallying up how many
graduation gifts you need to purchase this year.  When it comes to gifting, I’m usually a simple Susan and a practical Pam so all my gifts have to be useful and meaningful.  I have several high school graduates that I need to give a little something to. Thinking back to my high school to college transition, I had a lot of gifts that made my life simpler.  Many gifts are still in my arsenal 10 years later. I want to make sure my gifts to my graduates have the same practical potential. If you are looking to give more than a card with cash (not that they wouldn’t love that), here are a few gift ideas you may want to consider.

Sam’s or Costco Membership Card

This is definitely a gift that keeps on giving.  Help your favorite graduate save money on everyday essentials by buying in bulk.  Not only will this save money, but time on weekly store runs.  These member-only stores are great for purchasing toiletries, supplies, electronics, and non-perishable snacks.

Storage Totes and Containers

As college students, moving and packing becomes a semester or yearly routine. Making your whole life fit into a dorm room can be quite challenging as well.  Students will have to learn how to tuck and store many items in closets and under beds.   Plastic storage containers in any size can make packing, moving and storing easier.


College brings about great opportunities to travel.  Whether it is a spring break road trip, student org conference or weekend with the family, students are going to need durable luggage.


“No Excuse” Basket

 Deciding to go to class everyday sounds easy, but there are always something to get in the way of  attendance.  Besides giving the invaluable advice of “Go to class!”, you may want to help them get rid of any excuse that comes between them and the seat in class.  Fill a basket (or a storage container) with items such as an alarm clock with docking station, umbrella, poncho, and rain boots. alarm

“Get Well and Stay Well Basket”

Make sure your graduate is prepared for those sick days.  Put together a gift basket with pain, cold, flu, allergies and upset stomach medicines.  You may want to include vitamins and immune booster to help them beat getting those nasty germs that come with being cramp in classrooms and dorms.  Band-aids, peroxide, and anti-bacteria ointment can round out your basket to help with any bumps and bruises.

“Dorm Ready Basket”

Setting up a dorm room to feel like home takes a little bit of work.  Help make this transition easier with cleaning items such as disinfectant wipes and spray, air freshener, trash can, trash bags, paper towels and window cleaner. Bed sheets, washcloths, bath towels can also be a good addition to this package.

Career AdviceNavigating the Career Jungle Cover

Make sure 4.5 years from now your graduate is all smiles and gainfully employed in their desired career.  High school graduates should have a laser focus on their potential careers.  Gaining a competitive edge as a job candidate begins as soon as the first semester.  Having a clear cut career plan guides students in what courses they should take, activities they should participate, internships they should take, and graduate degrees to pursue.  Navigating the Career Jungle by Jacqueline Twillie, MBA is an excellent graduation gift.  This to guide takes the guess work out of career preparation.






Laugh and Learn: Kevin Hart Summarizes My College Success Tips in 3 Minutes


While looking at Jimmy Fallon’s clips from his first week as host of The Tonight Show on YouTube, I was randomly led to watch suggested videos that featured Kevin Hart.  I stumbled up on this gem of an interview Kevin and Sway from November 2013.  Kevin has quickly become one of my most favorite entertainers.  Not because I can look at all of his stand-up DVD’s all day, everyday and still laugh like I’ve never seen them before, but also it is because I respect his hustle and his passion.  I knew that he was more than a funny man on stage, when I noticed he produced nearly every comedy special he debuted. 

Watching the Sway interview took my respect level for Kevin up several notches.  It is a gift to not only make people laugh but to also make them listen.  He summarized my whole philosophy of college success in 3 minutes and 5 seconds.  So maybe instead of shaking today’s students to reality, I should just play this clip. 

Here are the video highlights: 


 “I’m a CEO. I run my own company. I run Hart Beat Productions. I’m a businessman.  I create. I produce. I fund.  I understand finances.  I own my standup material. “

The Lesson: Be a multi-faceted student.  Get out of your comfort zone and embrace as many campus opportunities that you can: act, sing, dance, debate, lead, research.  Employers are looking for well-rounded, versitile individuals who are not afraid to try new things. For your first job, your college experience will serve as your job experience. 


“I literally educated myself.”

The Lesson: A teacher is not required for learning to take place. It is my daily battle to get college students to understand that. With patience and effort, students can become their own teacher or tutor.  Most importantly, everything you need to learn in college will NOT be found in the confines of a course or a degree plan.  There are so many things students have to learn for their own personal growth that no one is going to single them out to make them learn.


“I am smart enough to surround myself with people who understand my vision.”

The Lesson: While everyone will have different visions, still surround yourself with people who absolutely want to be successful.  Many college students who lose focus and suffer academically often do so because their friends or their roommates do not study or go to class. Students have to be aware of the people they surround themselves with and actively search for friends, classmates, faculty and professional staff who will encourage personal accountability. 


“You don’t get there by accident, you can’t get to be a mogul without being aggressive, without not asking, or taking advantage of relationships and people around you.”

The Lesson: Simply saying “I’m going to graduate.” is not going to make it happen.  So many students are just drifting into college just expecting a diploma to be placed in their hand.  Those students who rise to the top and get heavily recruited by companies are those who have a fight, a drive and a desire to compete. Their desire to succeed over rides any fear or intimidation associated with getting help.  Top students are not afraid to raise their hand in class, meet with the professor, get tutored or do anything to get their questions answered.  


“I’m a sponge. I don’t care who you are. I feel like everybody has a piece of information I can use. There are times to listen and times to ask questions. 

The Lesson: The wisest students realize how much they do not know and take action to increase their knowledge in all areas. However, students need a level of maturity to realize that “I don’t know everything and that I should listen to those who have a little more insight on this college thing.”  Those students who seek advice AND listen can sprint to the graduation finish line with less scars, bumps and bruises because they were able to avoid mistakes others have experienced.

 View the Full Interview Here

Credit: YouTube/SwaysUniverse