National groups composed of college students have always had a hard time gaining financial or programatic traction because of the nation’s vast size (there are some 4,000 colleges) and the naturally high turnover in campus-based leadership. The Campus Opportunity Outreach League (COOL) is a case in point. Founded in 1984, the group has led a life on the edge in St. Paul, then D.C., and since September in Boston. Hired by board president Bobby Hackett, 40, vice president of the Bonner Foundation in Princeton, N.J., were Dawn Hutchinson, a former COOL staffer, as president, and Ariane Hoy as CEO. But Hutchinson departed from the cash-strapped office after less than six months, leaving Hoy and national conference director Jason Wheeler as the entire COOL staff.
COOL’s big event is its annual COOL National Conference held in March, most recently at Harvard. High attendance at this annual money-maker is vital to COOL’s continued viability. The official registration count, said Wheeler, was “a little over 1,500,” well above the group’s 900 registrant break-even point. But some veteran COOLers in attendance put the total at 800-900. One thing that is going up for sure at COOL, an organization that places emphasis on “student voice,” is the age of its board members. Of the 12 current board members, acknowledges Hoy, none are students “right now.”
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