RISE for free college

The program encouraging free college disappears from campus

Ferris’ RISE Free is leaving campus for the time being, as they recently removed their Student Navigator Network program that helped bring it to the university.

According to social work senior Emma Lentz, who was a student navigator for Ferris’ RISE Free branch, there were navigators at Central Michigan University, Northern Michigan University, Western Michigan University and Michigan State University.

“RISE Free came to Ferris just this past summer [around] May or June,” Lentz said. “I was looking for remote work, something similar to the social work program. I found RISE Free on Indeed… RISE Free is our parent organization, and then we house the Student Navigator Network. The way that they do that is they hire and train people at different institutions across the country.”

RISE Free is a national non-profit organization that fights for free college tuition and inspires students to become civically engaged. According to their website, they were founded in California in September 2017. It is notably known as the organization that helped make the first two years of community college free in California. Since then, they have been able to expand their organization through their Student Navigator Network program.

The Student Navigator Network program recruits current college and university students to provide one-on-one assistance to other students that need financial help. Student navigators have appeared at schools in Georgia, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan.

Lentz began her training in the fall of 2022 alongside social work senior Makayla Babson, who joined the Student Navigator Network shortly after. While Lentz and Babson were being trained, they weren’t allowed to start helping students. Instead, they took the opportunity to spread the word about the organization.

“A lot of the things we were doing were class presentations,” Babson said. “Before we were going to be able to get students to use the program, we had to do the advertising and set the groundwork.”

While Lentz and Babson were building interest for RISE Free, unfortunate news awaited in the near future. Lentz says they got a call on March 10 from their “most superior boss” and were informed that due to financial issues the Student Navigator Network program as a whole was no more.

“There is kind of a specific distinction,” Babson said. “RISE Free is a national nonprofit that has other initiatives that they’re still doing. The Student Navigator Network… ended nationally, so RISE Free is no longer on campus. RISE Free does other things, and they hire people and they’re called fellows, and they try to get the vote out on campus. That could still be something that could come to Ferris, but the Student Navigator Network is no longer.”

Babson says the news seemed unexpected, not just for them, but for the organization as well.  Lentz added that anything they could say would just be speculation as to why the program went under, but says it was a financial issue.

Because the program ended, the girls are now out of work and have little faith RISE Free with return to campus with similar affect.

“We’re broke now,” Lentz said. “We were laid off with very little notice. It’s upsetting… We still made those connections, which is helpful for us in the field of social work, but we put a lot of work [into] something that never really took its first steps. It was devastating a little bit for both of us emotionally and financially, and the Student Navigator Network won’t come to Ferris ever again.”

During their time as navigators, they helped five students in the first two months of the spring semester. Now, Lentz and Babson encourage students to take advantage of the programs at Ferris if they are in financial trouble such as the food pantries, the Bulldog Basic Needs Alliance, Community Mental Health and the Department of Health and Human Services office in Big Rapids.

While their official positions are gone, Lentz and Babson are still open to taking emails from students needing guidance or help on what to do if they are in a difficult position while at Ferris. They say they don’t mind taking a few minutes out of their day to email someone and point them in the right direction if they are feeling overwhelmed.

-edited by ML