Upswing CEO works to close the resource gap with a mix of heart and technology. Hear his thoughts on getting help to where it’s most needed.
Helping college students overcome obstacles to graduate.
Once upon a time, students graduated from high school and moved immediately on to college. While that pathway still exists, the college student of today is more often an adult learner. A military veteran. A parent. A first generation college student. The college student of today is likely to attend school part-time while they work. Live at or below the federal poverty line. Take courses online. Use school as a means to reskill or change careers. Unfortunately, the critical retention-enforcing resources at most institutions weren’t designed for this college student. And that’s where Melvin Hines, Jr., Upswing CEO, saw a real need.
“Knowing the challenges these students face, we purposefully think about what their educational experience is going to be like — then work to better that experience,” says Hines.
To do so, Upswing combines personalized technology with subject-specific tutoring and other services, all working together to get these students the academic support they need. “The impact of one student succeeding is a powerful force for change,” says Hines. “When they succeed, their family and community also succeed.”
Getting help where help is most needed
Upswing partners with more than 100 colleges and universities across the country, focusing on non-traditional and diverse populations, often in rural communities. We also work with more than 10 percent of the 107 Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).
The reason? Unlike traditional students who have direct access to a campus full of resources, non-traditional students are often left on their own. “Non-traditional students don’t have the same access points, and we believe this is the single biggest reason so many of these students are dropping out of school,” says Hines. He notes that online and non-traditional students drop out twice as much as their on-campus counterparts. And thus the need for specialized help.
Leveling the playing field
So how do you connect with students who have families, jobs and other commitments in addition to school, making it so they can access help when and where they need it? In order to reach, relate to and retain students, Upswing developed innovative software that provides a 24/7 academic support platform that comes alongside the students where they’re at.
“Traditional methods aren’t effective for non-traditional students. The key to reaching non-traditional students is by expanding the ways colleges engage and support all students,” says Hines. “We made using Upswing as easy as possible, so students have nothing to download or install, and they can do it right from their mobile devices.”
Giving tutoring a digital upgrade
Upswing provides students with a virtual assistant named Ana that texts them with reminders of upcoming tests, financial aid deadlines and other timed information.
But that’s just the beginning. Ana also schedules advisors and subject-matter tutors, as needed.
“Since Ana is always on and responds automatically, it doesn’t matter when a student asks a question. After work. Once the kids are in bed. Early morning. Ana reaches them where they are,” says Hines.
Connecting students to campus
For students on campus, Upswing also provides a student engagement platform that connects them to their campus support services, allowing students to log in from anywhere and schedule an online meeting with an advisor, tutor, counselor, or professor.
According to Hines, “Each time a student logs in, they see staff members from their campus and see the tutor they’re familiar with— just like if they walked onto campus. Or they see the professor they would see during regular office hours, and they’ll be able to connect with them online.”
What’s more, students can upload an assignment for a tutor to review and respond to later.
“The idea is that the student never feels like they’re alone, and they always have someone there watching out for them.”
Making a difference
Growing up in Albany, Georgia, Hines has never forgotten the roadblock that stranded so many young people without the most fundamental boost into adult life — education. Through Upswing, Hines and his team have helped prevent more than 42,500 students from dropping out of college.
Investing in impact
When grant funders are looking to invest in higher education, they want to partner with an organization that reaches underrepresented students and can show proven results. During our most recent Series A funding, Imaginable Futures, a global philanthropic investment firm, led the round, with JPMorgan Chase as the co-leader. Other new investors include Bonsal Capital, the Agave Fund, and impact investing firm Sustain VC. Follow-on investors include the Impact America Fund, Lumina Foundation, and Rethink Education.
Why do these philanthropic powerhouses believe in Upswing? Simple. “We can impact not only students, but their families, their workplaces, their communities and society as a whole. Building momentum and sustaining our work will positively impact more campuses and help more students reach their goals.”