Can you tell us a bit about your university's history and your personal experience helping students from underserved areas on their path to college?

As a state University, Miami has a commitment to serving Ohio students and providing them access to a college education. This commitment to Ohio students spans our 200-year history, but is most recently illustrated through programs like the Miami Access Fellows Program, which is a grants and scholarships program for Ohio students who have total family income that is equal to or less than $35,000. To fund this program, we combine an Access Fellow's federal and state grant funds with university grant and scholarship funds to meet the cost of tuition and academic fees. In addition, Miami provides Access Fellows with the following benefits:

- Program housing and meal ticket fee waivers for the Access student and a family member at Miami's Summer Orientation. (This benefit does not apply if staying at Heritage Commons.)
- Option to participate in Miami's MADE@Miami program, designed to help new students navigate the university while building a diverse network of friends and mentors.
- Special workshops related to topics such as career development and financial management.

Personally, as a first generation college student and a former high school English teacher who worked in a rural, underserved county, I have an unwavering commitment to ensuring students are aware of the benefits and life-changing impacts a college education can provide. By ensuring our recruitment staff visit high schools throughout the state, including those in rural and urban areas, we can educate students across socioeconomic landscapes of the opportunities and outcomes associated with a Miami degree. Likewise, we employ comprehensive efforts to communicate to counselors and students about the financial aid and scholarship awarding process and to make them aware of special programs that are specifically for underserved populations, many of which have scholarships attached to them.
Lastly, as a student who attended an underserved high school that offered not a single AP or IB course, I am committed to ensuring that in the admission review and merit scholarship consideration process, students are considered in the context of their high school. This means that we do not expect all students to have equal access to coursework. We acknowledge and recognize that some students have had limited opportunity to challenge themselves through higher level classes simply because those courses weren't offered -- often due to funding and/or staffing limitations. As such, students are evaluated in the context of the coursework available at their particular high schools.

What advice would you give to students from an underserved area who have college aspirations?

First and foremost, I would proclaim that attending college is an attainable goal and one they must never lose sight of. I would remind them that there are nearly 5,000 degree-granting institutions in the US and an abundance of scholarship and grant programs and through a lot of hard work and preparation, they can earn a college degree. I would advise them to not become burdened by the cost, but to search for a college that is the right fit for them both academically and financially and to diligently search for scholarships and other funding options.

How does the college application process change if you are a student from an underserved urban or remote area?

I don't think the application process necessarily changes for students who are from an underserved area, but I think their approach to the process will need to be different from that of their peers who are from advantaged backgrounds. Students from underserved areas must be extraordinarily proactive. They likely need to conduct much of the college search process on their own, rather than relying on a counselor who likely has a large case (student) load. They likely need to have a higher reliance on university websites, online college search platforms, and student testimonials via social media instead of turning to friends and family members who are intimately familiar with the process and may have invaluable insights, tips, and recommendations to offer.

How influential do you find a community's attitude towards academics is on a student's college aspirations? Does this affect students when they are applying to college?

Families and communities certainly play a critical role in influencing a student's decision to pursue a college degree. I have found that in those communities where there is a strong support network, either through a community foundation or network of parents, there is a greater likelihood that students will successfully matriculate to an institution of higher education. When students are encouraged to pursue their goals, when they are told more is wanted for them and that they have a network at home who wants to see them succeed, it provides the affirmation and assurance students often need to keep forging ahead in the face of obstacles.

How would you recommend a student approach the subject of college if their family or others in their community has not historically had experience with a college education?

I believe it is best for students to have those conversations as early as they can. The conversations may surprise them; they may be tough. Whatever the case, the student will know early on whether they have an additional ally and advocate or if they need to look elsewhere for the support they need for this process. I also encourage students to arm themselves with facts and information. In the face of opposition, it helps to have information that can dispel mistruths and misconceptions. I have found that oftentimes people are simply misinformed, so it helps to have as much information as possible when heading into conversations that they anticipate may be difficult. Also, because family members sometimes become frightened that a college experience means they will lose that family member -- he will move away, she will be ashamed of where she came from, he won't return home -- any time a student can dispel those myths and provide assurance that this journey to a degree will benefit the entire family, it helps to make the process less scary for all those involved.

What are some positive ways you see high schools in underserved urban and rural communities supporting students who want to apply to college? What is one thing you would like to see them adopt?

In Ohio, November is College Application Month, so many schools will have application blitzes where they secure areas with many computers and laptops and then invite in admission reps from many different colleges. In that setting, we talk broadly about the application process and then spend time assisting students with actual applications -- creating Common App accounts, visiting, and downloading school specific applications. The energy and excitement in those events is electric. Everyone is there, interested, and excited about one common goal. In that room, there is no competition -- rather unified support and enthusiasm.

What resources does your school provide for students in underserved communities? What kind of an impact has this had on students applying to your school from these communities?

Miami's admission officers serve as territory managers. This means they are charged with becoming intimately familiar with certain regions and the high schools and community organizations within those areas. Students and counselors alike are given contact information, including direct phone lines so that they can reach the admission counselors with any questions or concerns they may have.

In connecting with counselors for any particular area, we also offer our services to meet with groups of students, parents, and others in order to provide general information about the college search process, resources, scholarships for underserved students, and opportunities to take part in various programs that may provide college credit or scholarships to participants. Likewise, we often work with community organizations and underserved schools to coordinate group visits to our campus, providing transportation to campus, meals for students, and access to members of the Miami community who might provide insights to campus life and the benefits of a college degree. We have seen significant growth in applications for those areas and schools with whom we have partnered on these types of initiatives over the years. Through these programs, students learn about our campus, find comfort and familiarity in the connections they make as high schools students, become aware of scholarship and financial aid opportunities, and can picture themselves on campus because they form experiences there.

Why is it important for universities to support students from areas that lack traditional resources due to their geographical location?

In the age of overwhelming connectivity, it is easy to assume that students can connect in one way or another to an institution. We often fail to remember that rural areas sometimes lack high speed internet connectivity. We often forget that while websites can provide a virtual campus tour, it does not grant the access to sit in a classroom and understand the kinds of students with whom the campus experience will be shared. While colleges may send emails to students, if those students haven't had the means to take the ACT, SAT, or AP classes, they may have never thought about college. For this reason, reaching out to them, visiting their high schools, and making ourselves physically available is so critically important.

How can colleges and universities better encourage and aid students in underserved communities?

Schools can connect with students in these areas, creating lasting relationships with counselors and community organizations, visiting high schools and sponsoring programs that provide information about degree attainment, the college search process, and financial aid opportunities. Colleges and universities can be tremendous partners in increasing the number of students who not only attend, but successfully graduate from institutions of higher education.

Where do you suggest students from underserved communities turn for resources as they begin their college search process?

I always recommend they turn to a trusted teacher or counselor first and foremost. If they attend a school in which their counselors are overburdened, which is likely, they can turn to their teachers. Students often have ongoing and trusted relationships with these individuals and teachers may have knowledge of the student's background and any particular obstacles that may be an obstacle or challenge along the way. Teachers have been through the college process themselves and can provide advice and recommendations to students knowing any limitations they may face.

In addition to in-person advisors, I always encourage students to utilize the internet. Connectivity has removed financial means as an obstacle to learning more about colleges or experiencing their campuses. Students should visit websites, dig deep into social media, look for virtual tours, and chat features that will allow them to learn more about a school, its academic offerings, and the campus environment. While nothing compares to an in-person visit, the internet has greatly evened the playing field in terms of providing all students with the ability to learn more about the vast number of colleges and universities out there.

Susan Schaurer

Assistant Vice President for Enrollment Management and Director of Admission, Miami University

As director of admission, Susan has the extraordinary privilege and opportunity to recruit students to her alma mater and to an institution that will provide them with four of the most transformative years of their lives. Schaurer serves as Miami's chief admission officer and divisional lead for all strategic communication and marketing efforts that advance and support Miami's enrollment and student success goals. She has worked in Miami University's Office of Admission since 2006 and during that time, she has held numerous roles within the office and had oversight of multiple functions including campus visits and events, alumni and counselor relations, and strategic recruitment. She graduated from Miami University with a degree in English Education and later received a Master's Degree in Educational Leadership from the University of Dayton. Prior to her career in admission, she served as a secondary English teacher in the public K-12 sector.