The Bottom Line organization has the support of Fundación MAPFRE in the United States, making it possible for young people with limited resources and no college tradition in their family to access higher education and better opportunities in their working life.

TEXT: LAURA SÁNCHEZ IMAGENS: FUNDACIÓN MAPFRE

Bottom Line has the support of Fundación MAPFRE in the United States. This partnership helps students navigate the systemic barriers in place that make access to higher education for firstgeneration students from lowincome backgrounds significantly more challenging than their wealthier peers.

A college education is practically essential in the United States in order to have a chance of obtaining a well-paid job. Many families make sacrifices and start saving as soon as their children are born so that this level of education will be open to them; and, if they have several children, they may even be forced to choose which one will set foot on a university campus. One striking figure: in 2019, 45 million young Americans accumulated student loan debts amounting to nearly $1.6 trillion. It is expected that, by 2023, the percentage of those no longer able to keep paying off this debt will reach 40%.

Robert Putnan, a Harvard University professor and former advisor to three presidents (Clinton, Bush and Obama), claims that this American college dream died a long time ago and is now well beyond the reach of an everincreasing number of families “because of the growing increase in social inequality following decades of declining job quality and wages.”

But, if this educational aspiration has become a mere pipe dream for the American middle class, what about the opportunities for those who never found it easy to access college education? The Bottom Line organization, which MAPFRE Foundation has supported since 2014, has been striving to bridge this gap for over 20 years.

They are fully aware that, in each student’s heart and mind, the path before them is filled with enthusiasm and potential, yet also littered with pitfalls and hurdles. Research undertaken by the EdBuild organization noted, for example, that students from predominantly non-white school districts receive an average of $23 billion less in educational funding than students from predominantly white school districts. Obviously, this impacts negatively on the equality of opportunities available.

Bottom Line was founded in 1997 and, since then, has helped more than 4,000 students graduate from college within six years or even less. The student Bottom Line works with are the first in their families to attend college, and also come from low-income backgrounds.

Ginette Saimprevil, directora ejecutiva de Bottom Line Massachusetts.
Ginette Saimprevil, executive director of Bottom Line Massachusetts.

“While our students have unshakable motivation and ambition, they face countless obstacles on the road to college and professional success: a lack of social and economic capital, housing and food insecurity, being torn between family and school obligations, reduced wages and anxiety problems, as well as a limited personal contact network,” explains Ginette Saimprevil, executive director of the Massachusetts region. Ninety-seven percent of the students that Bottom Line serves are people of color (37% Black, 26% Hispanic and 26% Asian); 66% are female; and many are first- or second-generation immigrants in the United States. Almost all of them have life experiences deeply marked by the intergenerational poverty in the United States, or by the struggles that newly arrived immigrants to the country often encounter. For them, the college dream is a question of survival: as research from the Georgetown Education and Human Resources Center reveals, those with a college degree will earn a million dollars more over their lifetime than those individuals without one. In another study, the Pew Charitable Trust concluded that low-income students who obtain a college degree are five times more likely than their peers to progress economically.

The key to Bottom Line’s approach is providing each student with a dedicated, experienced Advisor to help them along their unique pathway to college. These relationships with the students are painstakingly nurtured from the moment they begin their third or final year in high school.

“We establish connections. We listen. What we learn enables us to apply our unique know-how, experience and methodologies to support them. We have an unparalleled pool of data offering comprehensive information on those universities where a student will thrive academically; we know how to identify those that will best suit them at the social, academic and financial level in the long term (we base this on what corresponds to their interests and academic ability, as well as questions of affordability). We also help them with the whole application and financial aid processes. The goal is for students and advisors, working together, to make decisions that will affect the future of each young person in a positive, informed manner.”

Sarah Kac, a Talent and Organizational Development consultant at MAPFRE, states that having the opportunity to work with Bottom Line students is more than just a volunteering opportunity or a chance to give back to the community; it is all about being able to help shape another person’s future. “Personally, they are an inspiration to me.

Cuando querer sí es poder

Each of these students has an extraordinary drive and desire. This initiative not only gives me the opportunity to help them determine their short- and long-term objectives and career aspirations, and prepare them for the transition to the labor market, but it also makes me want to do more, and give more.”

In addition to putting their know-how and experience at the service of the students, MAPFRE employees support these young people by organizing empowerment events, annual galas and small gestures like sending personalized letters and postcards to the students they have contacted to encourage them with their studies and inquire how they are getting on.

“Our employees become mentors, helping to prepare their students for both college and career,” explains Jaime Tamayo, Chief Representative of Fundación MAPFRE in the United States and CEO of MAPFRE USA. “We have an internal job board that these students can access postgraduation – we don’t want to miss out on their incredible talent and drive to excel. We are proud of our partnership with Bottom Line and their dedication to producing career-ready college students.”

In other cases, the beneficiaries of the Bottom Line initiative end up working for the organization itself. This is the case of Ginette Saimprevil, executive director of Bottom Line Massachusetts region. “I emigrated to the United States with my family from Haiti when I was just ten years old. I contacted Bottom Line when I was in high school. I wanted to apply for a university place, but the whole process, the paperwork… it was like a foreign language to me.

At Bottom Line, they helped me understand it. However, even with the preparation and support of Bottom Line, the cultural shock of attending Bowdoin College, a private liberal arts college, really struck me. I recall how, from the very first day of class, I wanted to ask for a transfer to another university. But, thanks to my Bottom Line Advisor who persuaded me and encouraged me to keep going, I persevered and eventually earned my degree. For all these reasons, over 14 years ago I chose to work at Bottom Line to help other college students earn their degrees, just as I did.”