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Jessie Fenton

How Relationship Building via Gradforce helps Alumni Excel

On the path to a Bachelor’s degree, academic, financial, and situational factors can present challenges to Cristo Rey graduates’ successful completion of their postsecondary education. Data reflecting national trends among alumni indicates that Cristo Rey college enrollees are at the greatest risk of withdrawing after their freshman and sophomore years. National statistics also indicate that, without Bachelor’s degrees, youth from the lowest income quartile face enormous obstacles in transcending poverty. To ensure that the Cristo Rey Network delivers on the promise to its students of college access and support through graduation, the national office has partnered with its philanthropic community to expand and deepen the organization’s evidence-based approach to college initiatives.

One strategic area of focus is alumni advising. Multiple researchers have documented the pivotal impact of consistent contact and support for college enrollees as they progress through college. For that reason, Cristo Rey schools employ full-time Alumni Advisors who work with students from senior year of high school through their college commencement – providing a range of support, advocacy, and connectivity to Cristo Rey graduates that helps ensure their college persistence and completion.  

To best support that work, the national office enhanced its alumni data collection and management efforts. After extensive research and learning from peer organizations, the Cristo Rey Network built and launched Gradforce, a customized application on the Salesforce platform, in 2020. Gradforce gives Alumni Advisors tools to:

  • Monitor student enrollment, persistence, and graduation from colleges and universities around the country using National Student Clearinghouse data
  • Update alumni on critical financial aid, scholarship, and event information through integrated mass and 1:1 texting and emailing
  • Gather students' semester progress on topics such as finances, academics and social emotional well being in order to best coach and support students

Recent grants from the Crimsonbridge Foundation, coupled with college initiatives programming investment from the Wilson Sheehan Foundation, have propelled the implementation, ongoing development enhancements, and scaling of Gradforce network-wide. The impact is in the numbers:

  1. For the upcoming 2022-2023 school year, 30 Cristo Rey schools with graduates will mobilize Gradforce to track, communicate with, and support our nearly 24,000 graduates nationwide.
  2. Since 2020, the portal has already enabled more than 130,000 texts and 105,000 emails between Alumni Advisors and alumni to communicate scholarship opportunities, FAFSA, and re-enrollment support. 

In the past 90 days alone, Gradforce has allowed me to have 2,608 connections with DePaul Cristo Rey alums. Without Gradforce, there is no way I would have been able to facilitate those alumni touchpoints,” shared Brittany Ranz, Director of Graduate Success & Alumni Engagement at DePaul Cristo Rey High School in Cincinnati. “I have heard from many alums that they look forward to my weekly communications, which lets me know that I am connecting and building relationships in a meaningful way. Similarly, I can document each contact I have with alums, allowing me to keep track of essential data and conversation points, which ultimately helps guide my advising approach.

Gradforce allows both veteran and newer Alumni Advisors, like Brittany, to work more efficiently, giving more time to analyze persistence and completion data, prioritize their caseload around financial, academic, social emotional needs, and create a communications loop with college counselors to ensure seniors are applying and committing to best-fit colleges.

We continue to maximize the utilization of Gradforce, and we gather feedback from our school users to further refine workflow efficiency to increase college enrollee persistence,” stated Bianca Paiz, Director of College Initiatives at the Cristo Rey Network. “Our key accomplishment, and equally urgent priority, is the postsecondary success of our students.”

According to third party data, Cristo Rey graduates are 2x more likely to complete a Bachelor's degree by age 24, compared to the total U.S. low-income population. While we serve families who represent the lowest income quartile, our goal is that Cristo Rey graduates complete a four-year degree at the same rate as families from the highest income quartile (59%). Notably, two Cristo Rey schools have already accomplished this magnificent milestone! Current network-wide enrollment and persistence data for the Class of 2017 projects that Cristo Rey Network’s Bachelor's degree completion rate is nearing 50%.

Amanda Drew, DePaul Cristo Rey High School ‘17, is one of those students who will earn her Bachelor’s in Spring 2023. Before Amanda engaged with Brittany, Larisa Wright was the Alumni Advisor at DePaul Cristo Rey. The Cristo Rey Network recently caught up with Amanda about the impact of support she received through college and she shared:

Larisa would often text or email me with alumni opportunities and events. She was a wonderful alumni advisor, but my favorite memory was when Larisa visited me at my university, Gannon University. Gannon University is in Erie, PA, about six hours from DePaul Cristo Rey High School located in Cincinnati, OH. I was the only DePaul Cristo Rey student in Erie, PA and she drove six hours to visit me. I appreciated her willingness, drive, and friendliness. Some of my family members couldn't even make it to campus, but she did. Seeing Larisa in Erie gave me a taste of home. It showed me just how committed and passionate an alumni adviser could be. Even if it was just concerning one student. I really appreciated her for visiting me.

From texts, emails, campus visits, and more, the depth of alumni advisors’ support to individual students like Amanda is maximized and tracked by Gradforce. Furthermore, Gradforce is not just a standalone tool; Gradforce leverages our comprehensive student and Corporate Work Study information, also built on the Salesforce platform. By connecting our Corporate Work Study (CWS) program data with alumni persistence data, we will soon gain previously inaccessible insights to our model’s impact, such as identifying valuable trends linking CWS job placements and industries with college degrees and majors. The continuum goes on. This fall, the Cristo Rey Network will pursue the planning phase of connecting Gradforce to our National Alumni Association platform, Almabase. This information will help build upon our growing alumni network and provide a new dimension of data to inform our workforce development offerings and job placement opportunities for our graduates and Corporate and Alumni Partners.

It’s more than just a text. Relationships are built with students to help achieve their aspirations for a lifetime of success. 

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