How can technology make a difference? It’s a question we ask daily. For one Birmingham young professionals organization, looking to tech to help solve one of the state’s workforce hurdles was just the beginning.
Part of Rotary International, The Rotaract Club of Birmingham was founded in 2004 to develop young leaders and promote responsible citizenship. It’s the largest community-based Rotaract club in the world, an accolade they don’t take lightly.
“We are very intentional about serving the community,” explained Lorenzo Johnson, the organization’s director of signature service. “For us, investing in education is an area of service that we know will last.”
This focus led to the club’s first signature service project, Ready 2 Read, which partners with Birmingham-based Better Basics to provide a library and reading volunteer program in all of Birmingham city schools’ second grade classrooms.
When evaluating their next signature service initiative, club members sought to connect their education efforts with the realities of Alabama’s low post-secondary education rates and workforce development challenges.
“We wanted to move the needle in helping our students take the next step in their education and thus providing an equipped, talented and healthy workforce that will attract and retain competitive businesses and industry growth in our state,” said Johnson.
The answer? A tech-based solution that brings college and scholarship information to students’ fingertips, eliminating some of the factors standing in the way.
The club launched Achieve Alabama in 2016, the first state-specific scholarship database in partnership with the Alabama State Department of Education, local nonprofit College Admissions Made Possible (C.A.M.P.) and Cappex.com. The tool is an online scholarship resource providing students, educators and parents with an effective scholarship search tool and college preparation resource that has the capability to guide students through the entire college admission process.
“Today, students face two major factors when it comes to college – access and affordability,” said Johnson.
And those hurdles are especially prevalent in Alabama. With a staggering number of first-generation college attendees, many don’t have the support network to navigate the daunting college application and funding process.
Achieve Alabama connects students to $11 billion in potential local and national scholarships. Through ease and accountability, Achieve Alabama is not only helping students keep up with the changing landscape of college admissions, but making them competitive.
From the onset, students create online profiles that require minimal updating. Over time, they can add college essays, letters of recommendation and track their applications. The ease of data entry and streamlining of process are game changers when it comes to making students more likely to pursue a college career.
“It serves as an online college concierge. The entire college application process is moving online. With our students uploading their information, maintaining profiles, keeping track of their searches and matches, they are able to operate more efficiently and are in constant communication about the status of their applications and financial aid,” added Johnson.
Additionally, the platform allows counselors and parents to access their student’s profiles. Rotaract hosts regular training sessions for guidance counselors specifically on how to navigate the tool.
“The accountability for this site is key,” said Johnson. “Now our students have people who can follow up with them and are more informed about the college application process.”
Since the site’s launch, Rotaract members are actively involved in populating the site with local scholarships and connecting the technology to students statewide. One of the challenges is that many localized scholarships are still not accessible electronically.
“We have partnerships with the Alabama Board of Education as well as education-based organizations. We make it a priority to educate these entities about Achieve Alabama and facilitate their understanding of the site so they can share with students. We have seen a remarkable adoption rate even in the past year,” Johnson said.
Already more than 155,000 Alabama public high school students have created profiles on the site.
While the project is the first of its kind for the civic organization, Achieve Alabama is just the beginning on how the club plans to explore tech and innovation to make their community a better place.
“We need to better support and equip our student for success. The future of our state depends on it,” said Johnson.