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Graduate Memphis helps people get back into college

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On July 2, Memphis Talent Dividend celebrated the grand opening of Graduate Memphis, a staffed college resource center for adults, at the main branch of the Memphis Public Library.

Graduate Memphis is modeled after Graduate! Philadelphia's resource center at Gallery Mall. It offers in-person and telephonic counseling, information on scholarships and other financial aid, assistance completing forms, including the FAFSA, and an interactive website packed with resources. And since it's at the library, visitors have immediate access to related resources located there, like the JobLINC mobile career center and test prep through the library's Learning Center.

"Graduate Philadelphia has been incredibly successful, and it's been great for us," says David Williams, president and CEO of Leadership Memphis. "When you talk about learning from other cities, to use their six years of history -- we don't have to reinvent the wheel."

Data from Philadelphia indicated that 30% of adults who visited the resource center ended up re-enrolling in college. Of those enrollees, 94% have either graduated or are actively pursuing their degree. The strong case for success in Philadelphia helped Memphis recruit financial support from the Plough Foundation, which granted the Memphis Talent Dividend College Attainment Initiative $1.7 million over three years in support of Graduate Memphis. 

"We're thrilled," Williams says. "It's such a blessing to have great funders step up and make an investment in the community." 

Prior to receiving the grant from the Plough Foundation, Memphis Talent Dividend was largely a volunteer effort helmed by a coalition of committed community leaders -- what Williams calls a "build-it-as-you-fly approach." 

In 2010, Memphis Talent Dividend launched a campaign encouraging people to think about 100 things that could be done in 100 Days to increase college attainment rates. The goal was to start out oriented toward action in a way that would be inspiring, motivating and galvanize change. Can you babysit your sister's kids once a week so she can go back to school? Or donate one textbook per semester to a deserving student? Could you volunteer for a local youth organization so they can take more kids on college campus visits? 

"It kept people at the table, because they could see results," Williams says. "We want to make people think like that: Here's an obstacle; what can you do to help us remove that obstacle?"

Memphis will benefit greatly from the scale-up that the resource center represents, but fundamentally, the principles behind Graduate Memphis are the same as the 100 Days campaign. It's actionable, hands-on, aligns community resources, and gets people thinking about a change they can personally make. 

"In the same way that we're bringing together businesses, higher ed, and youth organizations, we're also aligning all of the assets we have in place in Memphis to help people go from college to career," says Williams.

Learn more about Graduate Memphis here.

Source: David Williams, Leadership Memphis
Writer: Amy Elliott Bragg
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