College access and success program lauds today’s student debt relief announcement

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (Aug. 24, 2022): Onward We Learn, the college access nonprofit previously known as the Onward We Learn of Rhode Island, applauds today’s announcement by President Biden to forgive up to $10,000 of federal student loans and up to $20,000 for Pell Grant recipients.

The president’s plan also extends the payment freeze once more until the end of the year. This erasure of debt and freeze will substantially help Rhode Islanders who attended college as low-income and/or first-generation students.

“Thousands of Onward We Learn alumni had no choice but to incur student debt as they pursued their college dreams. For most, such debt impedes their capacity to achieve economic prosperity and accumulate the assets needed to generate wealth,” said Onward We Learn President and CEO Andrew Bramson. “Today’s cancellation will provide some much-needed relief for these borrowers, which in turn will help the Rhode Island economy.

“Today’s announcement must shine a bright light on how broken the higher education finance system is in this country. Beyond today’s cancellation of debt, the federal government must prioritize structural changes to make higher education more affordable. This work cannot wait another day,” Bramson said.

Important policy changes Bramson and the organization advocate for include meaningful efforts to control the ever-rising costs of college; expanding Pell Grants for high-need borrowers; eliminating interest on federal loans; developing more innovative repayment plans; and streamlining loan forgiveness for public service.

“Rhode Island is fortunate to have a congressional delegation that understands and appreciates the burden that student debt creates, especially among young adults,” Bramson said. “Onward We Learn looks forward to partnering with our delegation to seek solutions that action-oriented and will benefit those with the greatest need.”

Onward We Learn supports more than 4,000 students in middle school, high school and college each year with one-on-one advising and year-round programs that focus on academic enrichment, social and emotional development, career education, and postsecondary preparation to help them become the first in their families to earn a college degree. Middle schoolers who attend traditional public schools and select public charter schools and independent schools in Providence, Cranston, Pawtucket, Central Falls, Woonsocket and West Warwick are eligible to enroll in Onward We Learn. Learn more at www.onwardwelearn.org.

College access and success program announces new name, advances same mission

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (June 29, 2022): The state’s most comprehensive college readiness program, formerly known as the Onward We Learn of Rhode Island, announced today it has changed its name and brand identity to Onward We Learn.

The announcement follows an eight-month process that engaged over 125 students, staff, alumni, parents and community partners, and signals a renewed commitment to helping thousands of Rhode Island students each year build a personalized pathway to a more successful future.

 

“We believe that this new identity better aligns with our mission, vision and values as the state’s preeminent college access nonprofit. Our mission is the same, yet Onward We Learn reflects our continued work to be more inclusive and to meet students where they are, supporting them on their journeys to be lifelong learners, successful individuals and, in many cases, the first in their families to attend and complete college,” said President and CEO Andrew Bramson.

 

The vast majority – about 70% – of students in Onward We Learn have a traditional four-year college experience. By emphasizing lifelong learning and forward progress, the new name recognizes the changing postsecondary landscape and validates the experiences of hardworking students who instead pursue alternative pathways such as apprenticeships, certificates and stackable credentials.

 

“The data is strong that college continues to be the most effective path to social and economic mobility, especially for students of color. As a student-centered organization that seeks to include all perspectives and experiences, we want to make room for many different pathways as we look to the future,” Bramson said. “Students have a range of postsecondary options, and we want to celebrate pathways that work for them; we must transition from the notion that the classic college experience is an all-or-nothing proposition. The most powerful word in our new name is ‘onward,’ which signifies mobility and trajectory. When you think about college or other postsecondary options, think about Onward We Learn.”

 

The organization, founded in 1989 as the Children’s Crusade for Higher Education, engages students in urban school districts starting in middle school and provides college readiness, career exploration and academic support programming through high school and into college. Advisors work hands-on within schools and after-school programming.

 

“This relaunch marks an exciting new chapter for an organization that has been making a difference for Rhode Island students and families for more than three decades,” said Meg Geoghegan, chair of the Onward We Learn board of directors. “Our impact is felt by the students who receive academic support and college counseling, and as a result become first-generation graduates from competitive universities across the country. It is felt by our families, who access assistance with financial aid and other support services that set their children up for success. And it is felt by our state, which reaps the benefits of this community of talented, innovative and energetic young leaders.”

 

Onward We Learn supports more than 4,000 students in middle school, high school and college each year with one-on-one advising and year-round programs that focus on academic enrichment, social and emotional development, career education, and postsecondary preparation to help them become the first in their families to earn a college degree. Middle schoolers who attend traditional public schools and select public charter schools and independent schools in Providence, Cranston, Pawtucket, Central Falls, Woonsocket and West Warwick are eligible to enroll in Onward We Learn. Learn more at www.onwardwelearn.org.

College access organization to change name next spring

PROVIDENCE, R.I.: The Onward We Learn of Rhode Island, the state’s most comprehensive college readiness program, will change its name and brand identity at the end of the 2021-22 school year and will announce a new name next spring that better aligns with its mission, vision and values.

Over the next several months, the organization will gather feedback and insight from students, alumni, staff and a robust network of supporters whose deep connections to the organization will help inform this new chapter.

The organization, founded in 1989 as the Children’s Crusade for Higher Education, engages students in urban school districts starting in middle school and provides college readiness, career exploration and academic support programming through high school and into college. Advisors work hands-on within schools, inspiring young people to become the first in their families to attend and complete college.

“We have more than 12,000 alumni and 3,500 current students who identify as Crusaders. Our organization has played an important supporting role in their pursuit of higher education and lifelong success over the past 32 years, and we are incredibly proud of that legacy in Rhode Island,” said President and CEO Andrew Bramson. “As we look ahead to a bright future, we want to put the needs and achievements of our first-generation students and families at the center of everything we do, and that should include a name and identity that captures the values by which we live.”

The organization has hired Rhode Island-based firm NAIL as its creative partner, tapping into its extensive experience in helping organizations tell their story.

“The past four years have inspired tremendous learning and growth for our organization, and the pandemic has reinforced with utter clarity that the students we serve are some of the most resilient, gifted and determined young people in our state,” said Meg Geoghegan, chair of the organization’s board of directors. “Our work is about helping students on their journey to college and building their confidence so they can imagine new possibilities for their futures. Our identity should reflect this thoughtful approach that has served so many students and families well over the past three decades.”

Alumni, students and families interested in being involved in this rebranding effort are encouraged to reach out to Kristen Cyr at kcyr@onwardwelearn.org.

“We have a great opportunity to engage our community in this process, simultaneously building awareness and momentum for our mission so that we can continue to do this important work for the next 32 years and beyond,” Bramson said.

The Onward We Learn supports more than 4,000 students in middle school, high school and college each year with one-on-one advising and year-round programs that focus on academic enrichment, social and emotional development, career education, and postsecondary preparation to help them become the first in their families to earn a college degree. Sixth-graders who attend traditional public schools and select public charter schools and independent schools in Providence, Cranston, Pawtucket, Central Falls, Woonsocket and West Warwick are eligible to enroll in the Onward We Learn.

Three elected to Onward We Learn board of directors

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (Oct. 5, 2020): The Onward We Learn of Rhode Island, the state’s largest and most comprehensive college access program, recently elected three new board members – Lisette Gomes, Mary Halpin and Ken Wagner.

Lisette Gomes of Rumford, a College Crusade alumna, has served as East Providence Municipal Court judge since 2019; Pawtucket’s assistant solicitor, where she prosecutes criminal violations, defends the city against civil claims and assists with labor arbitration, since 2015; and Central Falls’ housing prosecutor, where she oversees housing code violations, since 2013. She launched her own practice in 2012 to focus on personal injury, landlord-tenant and criminal defense matters. She earned her Juris Doctor from the University of Toledo and a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from Salve Regina University.

Mary Halpin of Providence is a senior vice president of human resources at Centreville Bank, where she directs all human resources initiatives at the bank including employee growth, performance management, engagement, recruitment and compensation. Halpin has more than 25 years’ experience in human resources. Prior to joining Centreville in 2019, she was vice president, human resources at Fidelity Investments in Smithfield and assistant vice president, human resources at State Street Corp. in Quincy, Massachusetts. Halpin earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology from College of the Holy Cross and a certificate in compensation and benefits from Bentley University. She is also a certified executive coach, having completed her training at the iPEC executive coaching certification program.

Ken Wagner of Cumberland is strategic adviser at kmkwagner Advisory and served as the Rhode Island commissioner of elementary and secondary education from 2015 to 2019. He previously served at the New York State Department of Education from 2009 to 2015, ultimately serving as senior deputy commissioner for education policy. His career in education began when he was elected to his local school board as an 18-year-old high school senior, and he since has served in various roles at the national, state and local levels, including school psychologist and middle school principal. He holds a doctoral degree in clinical and school psychology from Hofstra University.

Also at the meeting, board members Adi Goldstein of Barrington and Eric Shorter of Riverside were elected to a second three-year term, and the board elected Meg Geoghegan of North Kingstown as treasurer.

The Onward We Learn supports more than 4,000 students in middle school, high school and college each year with one-on-one advising and year-round programs that focus on academic enrichment, social and emotional development, career education, and postsecondary preparation to help them become the first in their families to earn a college degree. Sixth-graders who attend traditional public schools and select public charter schools and independent schools in Providence, Cranston, Pawtucket, Central Falls, Woonsocket and West Warwick are eligible to enroll in the Onward We Learn.

Onward We Learn hosting outdoor event open to any R.I. high school senior for completing financial aid application

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (Oct. 1, 2020): The Onward We Learn of Rhode Island will host a Fall FAFSA Fest this month to help Rhode Island high school seniors apply for federal financial aid.

The free event will be held from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 17, under tents at the BankNewport City Center – Providence Rink at 2 Kennedy Plaza, Providence. Seniors from any Rhode Island high school are welcome and must make an appointment online at bit.ly/2Rw9GUd. This event will comply with all state COVID-19 safety guidance and all participants must wear masks and social distance. Appointments will last 30 to 45 minutes.

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, for 2021-22 opens today, and completing FAFSA is the first step in applying for financial aid. Students also must complete the form to qualify for state and institutional funding, as well as some scholarships. The Onward We Learn helps nearly 400 seniors enrolled in its program complete their FAFSA form annually. 

“Every year, millions of eligible students who do not complete FAFSA miss out on receiving Pell Grants, subsidized student loans, work-study, and other aid that can help them afford college. This year, it’s more important than ever that we all work together to ensure students get the aid they qualify for,” said Andrew Bramson, the Onward We Learn’s president and CEO. “This event could bring more than a half-million dollars in financial aid to Rhode Island students.”

The organization typically holds FAFSA completion nights for Onward We Learnrs in its office but had to change tack this fall because of COVID-19. “We don’t want to lose momentum because FAFSA completion is too important. Governor Raimondo has encouraged us all to be creative with the ‘Take It Outside’ campaign and doing so has given us the opportunity to open our event to all Rhode Island high school seniors,” he said.

The state has set a goal of 70 percent FAFSA completion at every public high school. Rhode Island ranks sixth in the nation for 2020-21 FAFSA completion, tied with Connecticut at 70.6 percent.

Studies show that students who could most benefit from financial aid are less likely to apply. A 2017 paper commissioned by the National College Attainment Network found that that high school seniors in higher-poverty school districts in most states are less likely to complete the FAFSA than students in wealthier districts.

“This fall, low-income students have been more likely to drop out of college, take a reduced course load or not enroll at all. This jeopardizes their futures and, potentially, the long-term economic well-being of our state,” Bramson said. “Students who complete FAFSA are far more likely to enroll in college immediately after high school graduation, and their rate of persistence increases with every additional $1,000 in grant aid they receive. So there are real consequences when students don’t complete FAFSA.”

The event is made possible in part through contributions from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Rhode Island, Cox Charities and the City of Providence, which donated the space.

Students attending the Onward We Learn’s Fall FAFSA Fest should bring only one parent or guardian and:

  • Their FSA ID, which they and one parent or guardian can create at fsaid.ed.gov.
  • Their Social Security number and driver’s license and/or alien registration number.
  • Their 2019 federal income tax returns, W-2 forms and other records of earnings, if applicable.
  • Their parents’ or guardians’ 2019 income tax returns and W-2 forms.


Participants should dress for the weather, as the event will be outdoors. Restrooms will be available. Students or parents with questions should contact Sarah Lessard at slessard@onwardwelearn.org.

The Onward We Learn supports more than 4,000 students in middle school, high school and college each year with one-on-one advising and year-round programs that focus on academic enrichment, social and emotional development, career education, and postsecondary preparation to help them become the first in their families to earn a college degree.

Onward We Learn will offer FAFSA help to all R.I. seniors

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (April 21, 2020): The Onward We Learn of Rhode Island is expanding its role to help more graduating high school seniors apply for federal financial aid during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, is the first step in applying for financial aid. Eligible students can receive up to $6,345 per year in federal Pell grants during the 2020-21 cycle. Students also must complete the form to qualify for state and institutional funding, as well as some scholarships.

The Onward We Learn, whose mission is to prepare and inspire young people to become the first in their families to attend and complete college, is well positioned to help more Rhode Island seniors complete the form and become eligible for aid. Each year, the nonprofit organization helps nearly 400 seniors enrolled in its program complete their FAFSA form. 

Starting April 27, Onward We Learn staff will begin assisting seniors who are not enrolled in its program but who attend its partner high schools in Providence, Central Falls, Pawtucket and Woonsocket, as well as Cranston High School East and William M. Davies Jr. Career and Technical High School.

In mid-May, the organization will open its FAFSA completion assistance to any high school senior in the state. All appointments will take place virtually.

“The biggest barrier to students attending college is cost and, during this time of economic uncertainty, it’s more important than ever that every student who qualifies for college aid receives it,” said Andrew Bramson, president and CEO of the College Crusade. “Our advisers have expertise in FAFSA completion, so it is a natural fit for us to serve more of our state’s students and help them get the funding they need.”

The expansion of services also will help the state meet its goal for FAFSA completion. Rhode Island is ranked first in the nation for year-over-year improvement in FAFSA completion rates and has set a goal of 70 percent completion at every public high school. In 2019, 66 percent of seniors completed the FAFSA.

“The Onward We Learn is providing a valuable service to students across the state – putting them one step closer to their dream to attend college affordably and stay on a path to career success,” said Angélica Infante-Green, commissioner of elementary and secondary education. “During this time of unprecedented challenges for Rhode Island students, I am extremely grateful that we will keep many of our most qualified and motivated students moving forward. I encourage every senior to complete their FAFSA form and keep as many doors open as possible.”

“School staff and students are being pulled in many different directions during this unprecedented time, and it’s understandable that FAFSA completion might not be top of mind, but last year $4 million was left on the table in federal Pell Grants. We know that missing out on free financial aid means students could be taking on more college debt or maybe not going to college at all,” Bramson said.

To schedule an appointment with a Onward We Learn adviser, email fafsa@onwardwelearn.org or text the word FAFSA to 95577.

For more information on the Rhode Island FAFSA Initiative, including a toolkit with screenshots to help families complete the form and a dashboard showing completion rates at high schools across the state, visit www.prepare-ri.org/fafsa.

The Onward We Learn supports more than 4,000 students in middle school, high school and college each year with one-on-one advising and year-round programs that focus on academic enrichment, social and emotional development, career education, and postsecondary preparation to help them become the first in their families to earn a college degree. Sixth-graders who attend traditional public schools and select public charter schools and independent schools in Providence, Cranston, Pawtucket, Central Falls, Woonsocket and West Warwick are eligible to enroll in the Onward We Learn.

Onward We Learn to host two application nights for sixth-graders in Central Falls schools

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (Oct. 16, 2019): The Onward We Learn of Rhode Island, whose mission is to prepare and inspire young people in Rhode Island to become the first in their families to attend and complete college, will host two application nights for sixth-grade students at Central Falls middle schools this month.

Both events will be held from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. The first is on Wednesday, Oct. 23, at Segue Institute for Learning, 325 Cowden St. To register, visit bit.ly/SegCruNight. The second is Wednesday, Oct. 30, at Calcutt Middle School, 112 Washington St. Visit bit.ly/CalCruNight to register.

Starting in the sixth grade, the Onward We Learn offers students year-round programming through middle and high school, supportive advising, and college application and admission guidance and support – all at no cost to families. Students must enroll in the program in Grade 6.

Programs include after-school academic and enrichment programs, Saturday and summer learning opportunities, career exploration activities, college visits, PSAT and SAT preparation, assistance with financial aid forms and more. Parent workshops and leadership opportunities also are available to Onward We Learn families.

To complete an application at this event, parents/guardians must bring student proof of age through one of the following: birth certificate or passport (U.S. or non-U.S.), green card or I-94; SNAP (food stamps) letter or a letter from your child’s school to confirm free or reduced-price lunch OR confirmation of first-generation college-bound student status, meaning the parents/guardians do not have a bachelor’s degree from the United States; student’s final fifth-grade report card; student’s personal statement, which is a paragraph describing why he or she wants to be a Crusader; and proof of address, such as a current utility bill, bank statement or pay stub.

Anyone with questions can call 401-519-0210.

Onward We Learn to host application night at Deering

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (Oct. 16, 2019): The Onward We Learn of Rhode Island, whose mission is prepare and inspire young people in Rhode Island to become the first in their families to attend and complete college, will host an application night for sixth-grade students at Deering Middle
School to join the program next month.

The event will be held from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 7, in the library at the middle school, 2 Webster Knight Drive, West Warwick. To register, visit bit.ly/DeerCruNight.

Starting in the sixth grade, the Onward We Learn offers students year-round programming through middle and high school, supportive advising, and college application and admission guidance and support – all at no cost to families. Students must enroll in the program in Grade 6.

Programs include after-school academic and enrichment programs, Saturday and summer learning opportunities, career exploration activities, college visits, PSAT and SAT preparation, assistance with financial aid forms and more. Parent workshops and leadership opportunities also are available to Onward We Learn families.

To complete an application at this event, parents/guardians must bring student proof of age through one of the following: birth certificate or passport (U.S. or non-U.S.), green card or I-94; SNAP (food stamps) letter or a letter from your child’s school to confirm free or reduced-price lunch OR confirmation of first-generation college-bound student status, meaning the parents/guardians do not have a bachelor’s degree from the United States; student’s final fifth-grade report card; student’s personal statement, which is a paragraph describing why he or she wants to be a Crusader; and proof of address, such as a current utility bill, bank statement or pay stub.

Anyone with questions can call 401-519-0210.

Onward We Learn earns highest rating from Charity Navigator

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (Sept. 6, 2019): The Onward We Learn of Rhode Island, the state’s most comprehensive college access program, has earned a 4-star rating from Charity Navigator, America’s largest independent charity evaluator. This highest rating reflects the Onward We Learn’s strong financial health and commitment to accountability and transparency.

Since 2002, using objective analysis, Charity Navigator has awarded only the most fiscally responsible organizations a 4-star rating, and only a quarter of charities it rates receive this distinction. In 2011, Charity Navigator added 17 metrics focused on governance, ethical practices and measures of openness to its ratings methodology. These metrics, which account for 50 percent of a charity’s rating, reveal which charities operate in accordance with industry best practices and whether they are transparent with their donors and stakeholders.

The Onward We Learn has received a 4-star rating in seven of the last 10 years. “The Onward We Learn of Rhode Island’s exceptional 4-star rating sets it apart from its peers and demonstrates its trustworthiness to the public,” said Michael Thatcher, president and CEO of Charity Navigator. “Based on its 4-star rating, people can trust that their donations are going to a financially responsible and ethical charity when they decide to support the Onward We Learn.”

“Our donors and partners make it possible for us to prepare and inspire young people in Rhode Island to become the first in their families to attend and complete college,” said Andrew Bramson, president and CEO of the Onward We Learn of Rhode Island. “It’s important that our donors trust that we’re using their contributions wisely, and our 4-star Charity Navigator rating demonstrates our good governance and financial accountability.”

The Onward We Learn’s rating and other information about charitable giving are available free of charge on www.charitynavigator.org. Charity Navigator’s website attracts more visitors than all other charity rating groups combined. The organization helps guide intelligent giving by evaluating the financial health and accountability and transparency of more than 8,000 charities. The 501 (c) (3) public charity accepts no advertising or donations from the organizations it evaluates, ensuring unbiased evaluations, nor does it charge the public for this trusted data.

Four elected to Onward We Learn board of directors

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (Aug. 20, 2019): The Onward We Learn of Rhode Island, the state’s largest and most comprehensive college access program, recently elected four new board members – Willie Borkai, Alaina Restivo, Kim Perry and Jessica Marfeo – to three-year terms.

Willie Borkai of Providence has devoted his career working in youth development, community development and the behavioral health field. Borkai works as a program coordinator in workforce development at Lifespan. He and his colleagues provide job opportunities for undeserved population and he coordinates two of the department’s youth programs.

Borkai, a proud alumnus of Providence public schools, graduated from Feinstein High School and attended Roger Williams University as an intercultural leadership ambassador. He studied psychology with minors in anthropology and sociology. He also holds Master of Public Health in urban studies from Northeastern University.

Alaina Restivo of East Greenwich is chief executive officer of Restivo Consulting, which she formed after serving as vice president of talent and operations at Upserve (previously known as Swipely).

Restivo relocated back to her home state of Rhode Island in 2011 in part to play a larger role reducing educational inequity. As the performance management executive for the Rhode Island Department of Education, she monitored the efficacy of 27 work streams under Rhode Island’s $75 million Race to the Top grant. She earned national recognition for her data-driven approach towards monitoring the grant’s performance indicators.

She serves as an adjunct board member for Trinity Repertory Company. She holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration in international business and human capital management from The George Washington University.

Kim Perry of Providence graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and Boston University School of Law and worked as a business litigator in Boston before joining Fidelity as a risk manager in 2006. Perry held various roles at Fidelity, including the risk management lead for Personal Investments, Fidelity’s retail business, until she accepted a voluntary buy-out offer in 2017.

While at Fidelity, Perry was actively engaged in the company’s community service efforts and was awarded Fidelity’s community service award in 2013. She has served on the board for Sophia Academy, a middle school providing low-income girls in Providence with an empowering education, and has mentored students at Skip Nowell Academy and Year Up, taught middle school students through Junior Achievement, and assisted high school students with college essays and interview preparation through College Visions.

Jessica Marfeo of Warwick is the director of product strategy and development for Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island, where she has launched several innovations within the commercial market segment including network-based products, well-being programs and integrated consumer-directed health programs.

Marfeo previously held a variety of managerial roles in finance and operations at within large-scale retail companies Best Buy and the Home Depot.

A lifelong Rhode Islander, Marfeo is a Onward We Learn alumna and a graduate of the University of Rhode Island with bachelor’s degrees in communications and political science and a Master of Business Administration. She regularly volunteers through the BCBSRI Blue Angel Community program.

The board also elected officers. The slate includes:

•            Edwin Pacheco of Warwick, chair

•            Meg Geoghegan of North Kingstown, vice chair

•            Doug Sherman of Cranston, vice chair

•            Joe Monteiro of Lincoln, treasurer

•            Eric Shorter of Riverside, secretary