When Brittany Cobb walked into the first day of her Money and Banking class at the University of Maryland, College Park, she said she was stunned.
There were about 285 people in the room.
“I was like, what in the world,” Cobb, 21, said.
The overwhelming feeling Cobb had during her transition from Prince George’s Community College to the University of Maryland may have done her in, she said, had it not been for The Hillman Entrepreneurs Program.
“Being in a big school like Maryland, you are a small fish in a big pond, and coming into a program where people have already been through what you are going through really helps,” Cobb said.
The program, established in 2006 through the Hillman Family Foundation, helps students with an interest in entrepreneurship stay commited to their education.
After supporting more than 150 students from Prince George’s Community College, in spring 2013 the Hillman Entrepreneurs Program will spread into Montgomery College.
The Hillman Family Foundation, the nonprofit arm of Southern Management Corporation, is donating $600,000 over three years to Montgomery College to start the program; the money will go to scholarships and programming costs, according to David Sears, vice president of advancement at Montgomery College.
Students will take entrepreneurial courses at Montgomery College, and then continue the course list at University of Maryland once they transfer. Each will be given a scholarship for the four-year institution.
The program director becomes the students’ mentor, and he or she arranges recurring sessions where students can hear from and connect with local entrepreneurs.
David Hillman, chief executive officer of Southern Management Corporation and head of the foundation, said he wants to spread the program as far as he can, after seeing how it has helped students become successful.
With this pledge, the foundation will have given more than $5 million to entrepreneurial programs at the University of Maryland and the community colleges.
“We have changed lives,” Hillman said.
According to a 2010 study conducted by the university, more than 85 percent of students enrolled in the program said it increased their motivation to succeed.
Hillman said his goal is to inspire students to be creative, and to go into the private sector.
In spring 2013, 15 students will be selected for the program at Montgomery College; the applicant requirements have not yet been determined, but students must be going into their second year at Montgomery College, and have “entrepreneurship spirit and ideas,” Sears said.
Students must be in “fairly good” academic standing, although the program is not meant to be for 4.0 students only, Sears said.
Ruth Lewis, the program’s director at Prince George’s Community College, said she has seen many students go on to start their own business or nonprofit.
After graduating, Cobb said she wants to start a nonprofit with her sister, committed to helping young women and teens.
“It helps you get your ideas solid,” Cobb said. “It gives you structure, and a business plan. ... Everyone is really supportive. Not just the coordinator, but the students. You can help one another out.”
The transferWhen first enrolling in a community college, between 50 and 80 percent of students hope to transfer to a four-year institution, according to a June 2011 College Board study.
But within five years of starting at a community college, just 5.9 percent attain a bachelor’s degree, according to the most recent statistics from the National Center for Education.
Programs such as the Hillman program help students become more involved, and involvement means higher retention and graduation rates, according to Britt Reynolds, director of undergraduate admissions for the University of Maryland.
The Hillman program gives them guidance, a support structure, and a place to go, all which are very important for transfer students, Reynolds said.
Cobb refers to she and the other students in the program as a family — the program centers’ lounge has become their home, she said.
The program aligns with the recommendations of college deans and higher education leaders nationwide regarding how to improve student transfer from community colleges to four-year institutions, according to the College Board study that surveyed 21 administrators.
The study recommends that four-year institutions should create partnerships with community colleges that help students attend school full time, fund scholarships specifically for transfer students, and develop resources and incentives that span the students’ transition from community college to the four-year institution.
Administrators also recommended that four-year institutions create a campus “home” for transfer students that allows students to meet others like themselves, obtain access to advising, and prepare for the transition to the larger campus community.
Of 4,000 incoming freshman at the University of Maryland, College Park this fall, 2,000 are transfer students, Reynolds said.
The Hillman program provides a small niche for some of these students to belong to, Reynolds said.
“Involvement is a key piece to anyone’s success at the university,” he said. “There is research that shows that they are better students for it, they make better grades and have a comfort level at the university.”
Hillman said that he understands why students can’t stay interested in school — he said the quality of the public education system is poor.
“When I was at BCC [High School], I got lost in the shuffle, and I almost didn’t graduate,” he said. “But I got lucky ... and I put my life together.”
With his program, he hopes to give students a reason not to give up.
“Tough it out, and learn what you can, and move on,” he said.