Where are you from? It's a harmless enough question. But for many college students, it carries extra weight. Growing up in an underserved community, college isn't an expectation or the norm, it's the exception. Seen as something only for the lucky, privileged few — the “rich kids”, the “brainiacs”, never simply: “me.”
In communities across America, from the remote corners of Alaska to the heart of our inner-cities, there are students. Students, who unlike their suburban counterparts, have the cards stacked against them based on where they were born. Recently, the New York Times reported that only 29% of rural and 47% of urban youth, aged 18-24, are enrolling in college. By comparison, the national average for that age range is 69.7%.
Why is college enrollment so disproportionate in these communities? What is preventing these students from taking the next step in their education? To answer these questions and provide important advice for these students, we interviewed a range of experts to speak on how growing up in underserved communities affected their students, their colleges, and their own lives.
As communities - large and small, rural and urban - we must join in on the conversation. We have an obligation to all students to encourage and support them in their academic interests regardless of where they come from. We need to let them know that no matter what, college is attainable, whether it's a technical certificate, associate degree, or full four-year bachelor's program. They have options — options not defined by where they come from.
Students from underserved areas should identify a few engaged school administrators and teachers to provide direction from beginning the college search process to their arrival on-campus after admission. Assistance also can be provided in places students frequent, such as community centers, churches, or homes of close friends, as residents having attained postsecondary education, or those that have successfully aided their children in reaching college, can provide counsel.Learn more about Ethan Zagore
Raised in the West Garfield Park community of Chicago, my educational journey to college differed from the majority of my neighborhood peers. Residing in one residence from birth to age 18, only 6.2% of residents in my zip code aged 25 and over hold a bachelor's degree or higher, compared to an average of 35.6% in Chicago city proper (U.S. Census, 2015). In contrast, I attended Skinner Elementary for grades one through six, a school focusing on classical education (now Skinner West), and Providence-St. Mel for grades seven through 12, a private school boasting a 100% college acceptance rate for over two decades, and named by Michigan State University as a “Model for Urban Education”. Educational statistics aside, there is not one neighborhood in the city, county, state, or country that I would rather hail from, as the character-building advice from peers, insight bestowed by adults, and wisdom given by elders directly contributed to my ascension as a student and is ever-present, still impacting my progression as a professional today.
Indeed my story differs, as my mother, an educator possessing post-baccalaureate education and serving as the director of a Chicagoland Upward Bound program (TRiO), with unwavering support from my grandmother and aunt, presented college attendance to me as a mandate, surely not optional in any sense. In turn, I applied to eleven colleges and universities including four historically black institutions, and received admission to my first choice, Howard University. Academically, socially, and mentally, attending Howard University impacted my life in every way possible. I encountered problems along my journey at Howard, from grade point average (GPA) fluctuation to balancing academic achievement with social engagement, really minor issues as I reflect now. Truly, completing my undergraduate studies alongside some of the brightest, most academically focused, purpose driven young adults in America was life-altering.
Consider this though, I was neither a first-generation college student nor low-income and purchasing textbooks, traveling home during breaks, participating in social activities, and paying account balances to continue enrollment were all issues I never encountered. Sadly, and similarly to most institutions in America, students with the aforementioned concerns frequently depart college. “At-risk” and underrepresented populations must be the focus of educators at all levels, especially when considering the shift in America's demographics. Our nation cannot contend with students from the world's academically elite nations by targeting our efforts on the dwindling majority, nor ignoring the necessities related with the increasing minority (percentage-wise).
Students from underserved areas should identify a few engaged school administrators and teachers to provide direction from beginning the college search process to their arrival on-campus after admission. Assistance also can be provided in places students frequent, such as community centers, churches, or homes of close friends, as residents having attained postsecondary education, or those that have successfully aided their children in reaching college, can provide counsel. Students can utilize the numerous online resources designed to support students through the process such as College Greenlight and I'm First, and pinpoint external academic programs, which include but are limited to: Educational Talent Search and Upward Bound (TRiO), The Posse Foundation, QuestBridge, America Needs, You and College for Every Student (CEFS).
Many high schools in urban areas have counselor-to-student ratios that are too high, disallowing counselors to allocate the time necessary to properly assist students in the college application process. Moreover, if the postsecondary enrollment or completion rates of area adults are dismal, students are not privy to a sufficient amount of neighborhood residents that have the knowledge to aid them in navigating the process.
Communities that promote academic achievement and college enrollment in their schools, businesses, churches, public domains, and homes, send a strong message to students that excelling academically is important. In my zip code, 46.2% of residents are living below the poverty line, compared to the Chicago city proper rate of 22.3%. Of more importance educationally, 59.6% of residents under the age of 18 are living below the poverty line, compared to 33.2% in the city of Chicago proper (U.S. Census, 2015). One consequence of poverty is the necessity to consistently focus on day-to-day living, leaving less time to plan for intermediate and long-term planning. Accordingly, it is challenging to make educational attainment one of the central topics of discussion in neighborhoods that are plagued by poverty, as achieving postsecondary education is not a requisite for survival, rather a luxury more commonly afforded to those not living in poverty.
Pre-college TRiO Programs, such as Educational Talent Search and Upward Bound, offer first-generation and low-income students access to a group of professionals designed to support students in all facets of secondary educational achievement and attainment. Services such as supplemental academic instruction, tutoring, standardized college test preparation (i.e. workshops to prepare, waivers to take tests), assistance in completing the FAFSA, and participation in college visits, cultural events, and student-focused leadership conferences help to prepare students for the rigors of postsecondary education.
Students engaged in one of our two pre-college TRiO programs statistically enroll, matriculate, and graduate from college at a higher rate than their peers. Our TRiO staff members hold the appropriate levels of education, are professionally experienced, consistently trained, and sincerely enjoy providing assistance to well-deserving students. Furthermore, a system of committed parents, relatives, and family friends sacrifice their time to ensure student participation is possible, and dedicated school representatives allow us access into schools and consistently communicate students' progress and concerns to us -- both critical pieces of the success of both programs.
While high school counselors employed at often under-resourced schools (personnel and money insufficiencies) desire to watch their senior students graduate and enroll in college, the lack of face-to-face time between counselors and prospective college attendees can seriously hinder students' efforts. Counselors and other administrators, often overloaded with state testing requirements, non-academic issues, requests for paperwork, and other tasks not associated with the college admission of said students, should conduct research to connect their students with area college preparation programs (i.e. TRiO). In addition, in every community lie educational, religious, civic, and industry-specific leaders willing to aid school administrators with weekly college application workshops, test preparation, and more.
While there are numerous activities inner city high school personnel could perform to assist students, honestly, there must be change in the culture of how enrolling college is perceived, which can be achieved with the intentional planning of college-related activities throughout the four-year high school timespan. A few examples include, but are certainly not limited to, arranging a field trip for freshman to visit local colleges, receiving admissions presentations at each campus, a sophomore English assignment requiring the completion of a college application essay with topics taken from actual applications, inviting local college admissions representatives to spend a day of service reviewing transcripts of second-semester juniors, providing feedback on classes students should consider taking for application strength, or even granting conditional admission to the representative's institution.
Postsecondary institutions can benefit from the diverse perspectives academically talented students from underserved community can bring. Even elite institutions can benefit by sending admissions representatives to speak at National Honor Society meetings, engage in conversations with AP teachers, communicate with counselors to identify students with high academic ability, and engage in a day of service (mentioned above).
Students should first take advantage of the wealth of information provided online as they begin their college search. Identifying local colleges and universities, viewing overall college rankings, specific degree program rankings, acceptance rates, college freshman class profiles (i.e. average GPA, test scores, class ranks), and on-campus extracurricular activities. Once students have an idea of the requirements to gain entry to the college of their choice, they can reach out to school personnel, community members, and locate non-school entities, such as college access programs (i.e. TRiO) that can aid them in their pursuit of college enrollment.
Our Upward Bound (UB) students have the opportunity to attend a summer bridge program between their last semester of high school and first semester of college. Students are enrolled in college level classes for credit that upon completion are transferred to their new institution, and some students opt to complete an internship concurrently. From their first year in UB as a freshman or sophomore until they complete the summer bridge program before entering college, our staff does an excellent job of facilitating workshops designed to prepare students for college achievement, creating an accountable academic culture similar to what students will encounter once they begin their undergraduate studies, and ingraining into our students that while attending college is a privilege, college graduation is an expectation.
While our UB program serves 104 high schools students with senior cohorts ranging from 25-30 students in any given year, our Educational Talent Search (ETS) program serves 899 students in grades seven through 12, with senior cohorts ranging from 125 to 150 students annually. ETS seniors, many in their fifth or sixth academic year with the program, receive assistance completing college applications, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and in-school workshops on topics related to college readiness.
Student Support Services (SSS), also a TRiO program, assists first-generation and low-income students during the completion of their undergraduate studies. If our students choose to enroll at an institution with an SSS program, our staff will direct students towards the program.
The South Bend community is tight-knit and hard-working, preparing for an innovative future, and understanding that the most valuable resource to cultivate is their youth. Our two TRiO programs provide our inner-city students a cohort of friends that are serious about pursuing postsecondary education. Upon graduating from college, the majority of these students will return to South Bend and become vital parts of the economy. However, as they grow into their professions, some pursuing post-baccalaureate degrees, and start their own families, their children will not be first-generation college students.
One of the challenges we have in our GEAR UP communities is a lack of college going role models. Students do not see many adults who have attended college outside of their teachers. Each time a student from one of our communities attends and is successful in college, they blaze a trail for those behind them.Learn more about Zach Hawkins
I was a low income, first generation college student and was the first of my cousins to attend college. My experience with applications was very limited; I only filled out one. When my mom found out that each one was going to cost $50, she told me that I should just apply to my first choice since I was pretty set on going there. When I got to college, I did very average for my first two years. Like many students, I was much more focused on the social aspects versus the academic aspects. Once I was mostly taking courses within my major, I did much better and finished with a 3.25 cumulative GPA. I also “learned how the game was played” in terms of understanding how to prioritize the important aspects of a class as it relates to your grade. I got over my aversion to asking questions and seeking out my instructors during office hours or after class.
The biggest challenges I had were financial. I remember realizing that I wouldn't have enough money to pay for the second semester during my junior year and began trying to figure out alternatives to dropping out. I was strongly considering sleeping in the back of my truck, showering at the P.E. center, and eating meals on-campus. I had myself convinced that I might do better in school because I would be spending all my waking hours on-campus. I don't know how I would have done sleeping in the back of my truck during wintertime, but was fortunate enough to have an uncle who loaned me money, so I could stay in school. There were also times when I couldn't do things with friends because I didn't have enough money. They would want to go out to eat or go on a ski trip and I would have to pass.
Look at all your options. I think there are often stigmas associated with two year colleges, but you might be well suited to a two year or certificate program that will allow you to move into your career quicker. Many two year degrees will get you a good paying job that's in demand, and you'll have less college debt. You might also consider starting your four year degree at a two year college if there's one in your community or region. You can transfer after a year or two and it will usually save you money.
A lot of my struggles my first two years were due to being in huge classes and being afraid to ask questions. In high school, I thought that anything that wasn't a major university wasn't for me. Knowing what I know now, I would have considered some smaller campuses. Your professors don't even know who you are and won't reach out to help you if you're struggling at a large university. Think about what you really need in a college and look for the campus that you think will provide it.
I think many students from rural backgrounds want to be on a larger campus and in a bigger community that has more to offer. Data from Montana GEAR UP's College Application Week initiative shows that most students are using their fee deferred or waived application to apply to one of our two flagships. This is very much in line with my perceptions of college as referenced above. It was sort of like, anyone who was anyone was going to a flagship, either in or out of state.
I think it is and I think we are still trying to shift the paradigm of what is legitimately college in the minds of students. Students should be thinking about everything from community college to a major university when they're considering college. When I worked directly with students in the TRIO Upward Bound Program, I tried to impress upon students the importance of finding the campus where you would feel comfortable and can achieve your full potential. Even if that campus is located farther from home or is in a small town like your own, it's important to remember that it's a means to an end. Four years seems like a long time to a high school student, but it's really a very short period of your life and will go quickly.
Our program does offer campus visits to students in grades 7-12. This is one of the more impactful things that we do. In addition to allowing students to get a sense of which campuses might be the best fit for them, it helps them understand the multitude of college options and to envision themselves on a college campus. Campuses offer so many academic and social activities. When rural students get a glimpse of this, I think it makes them more seriously consider college and see themselves as college material.
I believe it does. However, I think too many low-income students make college choices based on financial or personal circumstances rather than what's going to work best for them. Unfortunately, the culture of poverty lends itself to making decisions based upon immediate versus long term needs.
This is a tough one because rural schools are so limited in their capacity to provide services and interventions without supplemental funding. I would suggest that students work to build a positive relationship with at least one faculty or staff member at their school. This person may not necessarily be a career counselor, but students should talk to them about their college and career goals. A nurturing adult can provide advice and support as well as steer students to the appropriate resources that might be available. Also, simply having a positive relationship with at least one adult in their school greatly increases a student's chances of being successful.
In our most recent Annual Performance Report, we reported a 68% college enrollment rate for our most recent cohort of graduating seniors. This is 16% higher than our state college enrollment rate for the same cohort. Considering that we are working primarily with low-income first-generation students, we are proud of this enrollment rate. Obviously, we would love to see it go even higher.
Hopefully, when students see their upperclassmen peers attending college, it helps them see this as a reality for themselves. One of the challenges we have in our GEAR UP communities is a lack of college going role models. Students do not see many adults who have attended college outside of their teachers. Each time a student from one of our communities attends and is successful in college, they blaze a trail for those behind them.
Our schools primarily engage parents and community members through GEAR UP supported family nights. Typically, a dinner will be provided, and the school or other staff will provide information about college and careers and/or financial aid information. We also offer FAFSA assistance to students and parents. While it doesn't happen often enough, some schools are able to recruit parents to help chaperone campus visits. We also support school year kick-off events to get students and families excited about school and engaged in meaningful conversations with school staff.
For several years, we partnered with our Office of Public Instruction to implement a program called Graduation Matters Montana in our schools. The goal of that program was to elevate community expectations of graduation and college enrollment. We wanted students to understand these expectations went beyond their school and were shared by community and business leaders.
Most rural schools are strapped for resources and faculty and staff wear many hats. They don't have the capacity to provide college and career readiness services in their schools. Larger schools have college and career counselors who can provide more information and guidance to students as well as other resources. Counselors in smaller schools simply don't have time. Limited funding forces schools to focus on the programs and services deemed most essential. Oftentimes, college and career awareness activities don't make the cut.
I think that many counselors do go the extra mile to ensure that their students get the most information, guidance, and support possible. Additionally, rural teachers try to stress the importance of college, provide information, and encourage students to apply. Unfortunately, this is often the only place these conversations are happening with students.
If every school could ensure that each student visited at least three or four campuses while in grades 7-11, that would be great.
Doing more outreach and fostering opportunities to collaborate with schools helps a lot. Some of our campuses have traveling STEM and educational exhibits and activities that really help students see relevance in their coursework and raise their college awareness and expectations. I wish more did so. Perhaps more important would be to better train and inform faculty of how to better serve rural students and students who have aversive childhood experiences or historical trauma issues. These things often overlap. Many students don't make it in college because the campus doesn't have the resources or supports in place to help them navigate a new environment and overcome their challenges.
There is a general acceptance in higher education that faculty teach, and students learn. This hasn't served rural and low-income, first generation students well; everyone should be learning together.
Low-income and first-generation students often don't know or understand how campuses work, the roles of the various departments, or where they can get their questions answered. It is generally assumed that they can navigate the college process with little guidance or support. Parents can often help students understand if they themselves have college experience, but most of our students don't have that historical knowledge in their families. One of our partners that provides services to some of our college freshmen even provides basic information about the community (bus route information, places where you can get free wi-fi, upcoming community events and activities, etc.…). Many students also struggle with homesickness, but are five or more hours from home.
For our Native American students, attachment to family and community is much stronger, making campus life extremely challenging. It can be hard to prioritize college if you know that a family member is sick or that your parents are struggling to make ends meet. There is a strong desire to be there for support. These types of issues can be more of a factor in a student's decision to drop out than academic issues.
Montana GEAR UP supports students and their families to attend one of their campus's orientation sessions over the summer or immediately prior to the start of fall semester. We also work with existing offices that provide support services and either notify them of the students we've sent to their campus who are likely eligible for their services or support a position in their office that supports freshmen from GEAR UP high schools. We've implemented a texting platform that allows one of our state staff members to provide text alerts and notifications to students; these can be tailored to specific campuses.
Some of our schools put together care packages from family, friends, and community members that include goodies, items of cultural significance, and words of encouragement. Usually, the GEAR UP liaison drives across the state to the various campuses and delivers them. As a part of the trip, they try to meet with students either individually or in small groups on-campus and have a meal. This also provides them an opportunity to visit with the students and provide advice and encouragement.
Rural students who attend college are often far from home, family, and friends. To overcome homesickness and be successful, they and their families need to be comfortable with the campus environment and understand how it works. As referenced above, it can be hard to navigate the campus environment and know where to get support and questions answered. Providing these either remotely, or through proactive efforts with campus offices helps.
It's hard to return home to a small town after dropping out of college as well. Everyone knows you and knows you were in college, but aren't anymore. When your teachers and community members see you around town, they ask you why you're not in college or what happened. Inherently, you know they're disappointed. Getting care packages from many of those same people is a good way to shift the conversation from “why did you drop out?” to “we care about you and believe in you”.
Rural America is becoming a place of increased poverty. Schools are seeing declining enrollment while the needs of their students increase. They are forced to do more with less each day. Meanwhile college costs go up and students and families are forced to take on more debt to finance college. These are all disturbing trends. The need for schools, parents, communities, partners, and stakeholders to work together in addressing the college access issues our rural students face has never been more important.
I'm a big fan of breaking down big tasks and/or goals into much smaller, more manageable bits and pieces and the college process is tailor-made for this approach. Once someone understands all the steps involved, if she just makes a schedule and keeps to it, the goal becomes much more achievable.Learn more about Geoff Hunt
BTNY started as a middle school program in Manhattan in 1999. As our students aged and grew, so did Breakthrough. We added new sites in Brooklyn and The Bronx. We added a high school program and, later, a college and career success program. This means we have a ten-year pipeline through which we support our students first to gain access to strong high schools, then throughout the college application process, and then throughout college itself.
My experience helping students with college application and success began when I was teaching at Manhattan's Beacon School. There, each teacher functions as an advisor to a small group of students beginning in the 9th grade; when I was at Beacon, I coached three groups of advisees through the college process. In addition, I was also an adjunct professor at CUNY through the College Now program, so I saw students attempting (sometimes succeeding, sometimes not) college-level work, with more challenging readings and fewer nightly homework assignments. After Beacon, I worked with two organizations (most recently the Student Diplomacy Corps) that promote thoughtful student travel as a way to (among other things) prepare students to go away to college and thrive amongst the unfamiliar.
In 2015, I began work as the College Bound Director at Chess in the Schools, a mentoring organization in Midtown Manhattan, where I worked directly with about 100 NYC public high school students, most of whom will be first-gen college students. About 10 weeks ago, I started at BTNY, where I oversee a team of three Coordinators and 18 near-peer Mentors, all of whom work to provide support for our mostly first-gen students to get ready to apply for (and then succeed in) college.
Where do I start? I guess with the fact that the current system of public schools is not designed to support the kind of intensely personal process that a good college-readiness program requires. The ratios of educators to students alone (forced by budgetary realities) make this impossible and those ratios only get worse when we realize that most teachers aren't trained to discuss the college process from a point of view other than the process they themselves went through (perhaps in different states and perhaps decades before).
Into this fray enter first-generation students who are the most vulnerable to attrition from the college pipeline. They're unlikely to be able to access their family's collective wisdom about the college process and so are more dependent on wisdom and knowledge gained from the same professionals who are too busy to sit with them and explain the process, its pitfalls, and how to navigate them. This is where Breakthrough hopes to step in.
Is it too obvious to start with “work hard at school and do your best to get good grades”? It's not everything, but students who can demonstrate to colleges that they know how to succeed at school hold a significant advantage in both the race to get into schools and to get their education at least partially paid for.
The next thing I counsel is that students try and find a knowledgeable adult to mentor them and talk through what hurdles are to come--that mentor might be a teacher or counselor at school, or a student might find one at a mentoring organization like the one where I work. I could go on and on, but I'll stop with one more. I'm a big fan of breaking down big tasks and/or goals into much smaller, more manageable bits and pieces and the college process is tailor-made for this approach. Once someone understands all the steps involved, if she just makes a schedule and keeps to it, the goal becomes much more achievable.
It changes in a number of ways. First, the student should be aware that they should allow extra time to complete tasks because it's less likely that they'll be able to mobilize resources in case things go wrong close to a deadline. Students should also make sure they're aware of ways to cut the costs of applying to college so they don't spend any more than they have to.
Examples of money-savers are application fee waivers available from colleges and from the Common Application, fly-in programs to go visit colleges at the institution's expense, and free standardized tests. If students don't know about these in time to take advantage of them, the college process becomes hugely expensive. It doesn't have to be with a little bit of work and good timing.
In 2012, about 45% of public school graduates immediately enrolled in college for the following semester (up from 35% just 10 years prior). Attending college alone shouldn't be viewed as the goal, however: if we look at four-year graduation rates for NYC public school students, rates dip down to 36% of those who enrolled, or only about 16% of the NYC public school population. Those numbers go down once we factor in that BTNY students are about 90% likely to be the first in their family to attend college.
Because it's considered out-of-the-ordinary for students from the 'average BTNY background' (if there can be said to be such a thing) to attend college and gain a degree, there are a number of trends that we see. Of course, there is pride at the achievement of gaining acceptance and matriculation. But there is also a lack of understanding of exactly what challenges lay ahead and how best to meet them; much of our work with students focuses on getting them accustomed to being in spaces that feel foreign and navigating them successfully. This might be a professor's office for office hours or the financial aid office; it might be in the dorm, comparing ideas with students who come from positions of significant privilege.
The notion of “grit” (or whatever term one prefers to indicate the sustained determination that one belongs in the academic space and will take on the challenges in order to succeed) is not unique to BTNY, but we realize that our students need tools to persist in the face of the obstacles they'll meet in college. We believe we've been successful: our first class of 10-year pipeline graduates are due to finish in the spring and 77% of them will have graduated with a degree in four years. The remaining students are on track to finish their degree in another two years.
At Breakthrough, we embrace the “each one teach one” model of education with the hope that as much as we teach our students, they carry that knowledge out into their families and wider communities. Because we ask our students to be peer leaders and mentors to each other, we hope that we're training them in communications technique and willingness to speak when they have knowledge to share. Certainly, we're arming students with knowledge about the college process, including financial aid options and common pitfalls and challenges, that we feel their broader community would benefit from knowing.
Interesting question. I think one of the keys is to start by bringing the topic up as early as possible so family can get used to the idea and have a chance to think through possible objections. Once those objections are made explicit, the student can think through how to respond to them--college is too expensive? There's financial aid. I'm needed at home to help around the house? Maybe a part-time degree program is the right choice.
If students are stumped for answers, they can approach a teacher, counselor, or mentor for help. Bringing up the idea of college early also lets parents begin making preparations by making sure paperwork (taxes, birth certificates, etc.) is available to speed the application and financial aid processes along.
There's some really good work being done out there and it's being done in lots of different ways, which is encouraging if you believe there's no such thing as a one-size-fits-all approach to education. There are some schools doing fantastic work getting students pre-professional skills, like Cristo Rey, which has their students in internships one day of the week.
Beacon, where I used to work, is so writing-intensive that students often return from their first year of college saying that they find they're writing at a par with students one or two years above them. In terms of supporting the actual application process, though, I haven't seen much creative thought. This doesn't mean it's not happening--it likely is--I just haven't seen it yet. The best idea I've seen in practice involves an earlier start to the college conversation and trying to confound the shackles that come with the huge numbers of students assigned to each college advisor. Several good schools use an advisory system to do this with mixed results.
One thing I'd love to see public schools here in NYC doing more is encouraging students to reach outside their comfort zone when applying to college. I'm a big supporter of the CUNY system here in NYC and the SUNY system as well, but students often get more generous financial support from private institutions and often the quality of the teaching and advising (to say nothing of their student retention and graduation rates) are better at those institutions. Encouraging students to reach a little further afield when it comes to applying to college, to not be put off by the high sticker price (but be savvy about applying for financial aid) through encouraging advisors would be a great step.
Wow--This could be a book-long answer. Some of it is little stuff: accepting self-reported scores on standardized testing cuts down on the cost burden; some schools are starting to do this. Setting up, or expanding, fly-in programs for students from inner cities to get to a college campus and see what it's like to attend. Virtually every fly-in program I know of is for first semester seniors, though; if colleges could do that for 9th and 10th graders, they might find that they change the trajectories early enough to encourage students who wouldn't otherwise go to college at all because the idea seems so foreign.
Cornell University, among many others, have pre-college programs for high school students and they've made scholarships available for rising juniors to attend a few weeks of college-level classes and this was a HUGE hit with the students I know who attended. More of that would be great. Finally, I consistently hear students tell me that they are concerned about going to schools where they stick out because almost all their classmates are white; beginning or expanding programs that carve out spaces (be they virtual, emotional, or physical) for students of color on predominantly white campuses so that they have a respite or home would go a long way towards improving some students' feelings of belonging on college campuses.
It's hard to overemphasize the importance of having someone to use as a sounding board for ideas, questions, fears, and experiences. Too often, a non-college educated parent faced with news of a single failing grade on a test or quiz has the reaction of 'come home', whereas a mentor who's been through the college experience will more likely take a problem solving approach specific to the college milieu. Our use of mentors certainly doesn't seek to replace parental advice, but we do seek to bolster it with knowledge that our parents typically don't possess.
The two sources of information I'd recommend everyone consult are school counselors and the internet. Our students come to us because school counselors know us and the work we do and they tell motivated families what we offer and why they should consider trusting us with their child. It's hard to beat that kind of expertise, especially since good counselors act as matchmakers: there are lots of mentoring organizations out there and a good counselor will be able to differentiate which one(s) might be a good fit for a particular student or family. If there's no knowledgeable counselor available, I'd hit the internet and try some keywords, like “high school mentoring Vermont (or whatever city/state you're in).
Obviously, this technique doesn't come with pre-knowledge that the organization is what it advertises itself to be and/or is good at what it does, so some additional questions would be in order to make sure it's a good match for the student.
One issue shared by our students, which is typical for most college freshmen, is adjusting to the 'pace' of college. From the wealth of opportunities for campus involvement to the competing demands of individual classes, time management skills and an organization system become keys to success for our students.
Unlike some of their peers on-campus, the majority of our students need to work part-time for additional financial support, and that can become a time commitment that prevents the flexibility and freedom that other students on-campus have. So we spend additional time helping our students prioritize their commitments and personal interests, emphasizing the importance of balance and self-care. Self-care is an important focus of ours to ensure the wellbeing of our students.
The 10-year pipeline was designed to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty. In New York City, there is a huge number of public high schools. The vast majority of these schools don't adequately prepare their students for competitive colleges, but families aren't necessarily aware of that when they go through NYC's competitive high school admissions process. What we find, then, is that students are often on a path starting as early as 7th grade and that this path either leads them closer to, or further away from, getting into and succeeding at college.
Working with students beginning as early as we do gives us the ability to help inform families of their choices, the likely outcomes of those choices, and how to get into the best fit high school. We do similar work (this time for colleges) with our high school students in 11th and 12th grade, but even before that, we give them access to social emotional education, professional skills, and opportunities that will allow them to play on a more even playing field with their perceived competitors.
Many of these competitors are attending top-flight private schools and have economic and social resources to bring to bear when seeking out compelling summer and vacation activities like those that can make a difference on a college or job application. We also reintroduce our students to discussions about what the college experience will be like to get them, and their parents, used to the idea of studying at competitive colleges, many of which will be alongside an overwhelming white and economically privileged majority. The college support piece is relatively new for us and comes as the logical conclusion of our 10-year pipeline. If our mission is not just to see our students well educated and unburdened by crushing debt, but rather to increase their economic mobility, then we need to do what we can to support their career prospects, too.
We know that the first half of this mission has been successful--all of our first cohort is in line to graduate within 6 years, and more than 75% will graduate within 4 years. So, much of our newest program is devoted not just to college success, but career success as well. We haven't yet seen the impact of this part of the program--it's that new--but our hope is to break the cycle of poverty among our families.
I believe it makes it a lot more difficult to apply for college if you're from an underserved urban community. For one, you don't have the support and encouragement you need. Also, you don't have the resources you need because you may be one of few who are trying to apply so you don't know who to ask, where to go, or what you need. If you don't have the resources to visit other campuses, your opportunities may be limited. You may have to settle for a school that doesn't meet your needs, isn't right for you, or is too expensive.Learn more about Kelcie Diglio
My name is Kelcie Diglio, I'm 21 years old and currently a senior at UNM double-majoring in psychology and family and child studies. I am from Albuquerque, New Mexico and I graduated from La Cueva High School in 2014 then started at UNM. My experience applying to college was challenging to say the least. Not only was I a first generation student, but during my senior year of high school, my mom passed away after fighting a battle with breast cancer for 13 years. She was a single mom of three and because my dad wasn't around, I was not only a low-income student, but was considered homeless by the McKinney-Vento grant. This made applying to college not only stressful because of emotional reasons, but also because of financial reasons. I knew I always wanted to go to college and knew my mom wanted me to, but I wasn't sure how I would be able to afford, it especially under the circumstances I was in.
I believe it makes it a lot more difficult to apply for college if you're from an underserved urban community. For one, you don't have the support and encouragement you need. Also, you don't have the resources you need because you may be one of few who are trying to apply so you don't know who to ask, where to go, or what you need. If you don't have the resources to visit other campuses, your opportunities may be limited. You may have to settle for a school that doesn't meet your needs, isn't right for you, or is too expensive
I would tell them not to give up and especially don't let people tell you that you can't do it. Even though I had the odds against me, I persevered and didn't let any obstacles stop me from going to college. Although it may not be easy, it will definitely be worth it. There's a quote I really like from the movie Pursuit of Happiness: “Don't ever let someone tell you that you can't do something. Not even me. You gotta dream, you gotta protect it. When people can't do something themselves, they're going to tell you that you can't do it. You want something, go get it. Period.” -Will Smith
Although I didn't discover them until about halfway through my undergraduate studies, the College Enrichment Program at UNM was, and continues to be, the most helpful resource I found. They help with just about everything and their focus is specifically on underserved or first generation students. They make the college planning process a lot less stressful and genuinely want to help students succeed.
In what ways did this impact your views of college?
Yes, most people I knew from my hometown attended college either here in New Mexico or out of state. I went to a good high school where going to college was highly encouraged. As one of the more wealthy high schools in New Mexico, it was almost assumed you would go to college as well as could afford it. I won't say I felt like I didn't have a choice to go because I wanted to, but it just seemed like the logical next step because everyone I was surrounded by either went or was going to college.
Going to a high school that had high expectations for students to do well academically definitely had a big impact on my academic goals. I was lucky to go to a good high school as Albuquerque and New Mexico as a whole are falling behind in education. If I didn't go to the high school I did, there may not have been as much encouragement to succeed academically in school and go to college.
What is one thing you would like to see them adopt?
I remember at my high school, we had a college fair where students could walk around to tables and get information about different colleges. We would also meet with our counselors to talk about if we were going to college and what we needed to apply. They would write us letters of recommendations needed as well as send in our transcripts. I would've liked to see my high school adopt more financial aid resources. Because I attended a wealthier school, they didn't take into account students like me who needed financial assistance, and that created an unwelcome environment for me to ask for financial help.
I think offering scholarships for students from underserved communities is a good way to encourage and aid students. I know I am very grateful for the grants and financial aid I received and if students had more resources available to not only help them afford college, but to help with the process, they would be more inclined to apply and not as intimidated by the process. They would feel like they have people who are there to support them and help them succeed.
It was very difficult for me starting college. I was still coping with the loss of my mother, I moved in with my aunt and uncle, and I was now facing another huge change starting college. I've always been very good at school but it was overwhelming to start this new chapter of my life with all these other things going on personally. I had to apply for the FASFA, as well as many grants in order to afford college. Thankfully, I had the help of my aunt and uncle with that process as I wouldn't have been able to figure it out on my own. I felt embarrassed and ashamed to say I was now considered homeless, which I rarely shared with my peers. Most of my peers had both of their parents in their lives and were wealthy, so they didn't experience the struggles I did. I had to grow up very fast because of the major life changes I faced, which made it harder for me to enjoy the social aspects of college.
I was mostly on my own during the application and transition process, but I wish that I would've had a mentor like when I was a freshman. I think if I would've had another student to help me and guide me through the process, I wouldn't have had to figure so much out on my own. Although I didn't know about them at the time I applied, the College Enrichment Program at UNM is a wonderful resource for students to use and would make the process a lot less stressful.
Regardless if your parents or people from your community did not go to college, this does not mean they do not want to help you. Students should focus on sharing their career plans and long-term goals as everyone can relate to having dreamsLearn more about EJ Carrion
I grew up in a small town in North Texas where most students do not go to college. I was first in my family to attend and graduate college and I did this because I know it would give me access to resources and networks beyond what was in my town. Because my family could not afford it, I knew I would have to pursue scholarship options, and my mother helped. She encouraged me throughout the process and helped me stay focused and organized each day when she got home from work. I think it was her dream for me to go to college as much as my own. Today, not only was she able to send my brother to college but she went herself, and now both my mother and brother are college grads! I applied for over 30 scholarships and learned tips and techniques along the way for each one to go smoother and better. I received a full-scholarship from the Gates Foundation and graduated from the University of Oklahoma debt-free.
While in college, I was so grateful for my scholarship opportunity that I would do mentoring and volunteering at local high schools. During this time, I learned about the challenges schools have creating mentoring programs in low income and rural areas. Specifically, in small towns, it is hard to find mentors because volunteers are limited and traveling to schools during the day could be a challenge. This is when I thought about creating a mobile online mentoring program where students can receive individual monthly one-on-one guidance, using their smartphones, to learn about the college admission process and applying for scholarships. We launched Student Success Agency and now we work with 52 high schools across the country from Hawaii to the Appalachian Mountains. Over 6,000 students have participated in our mentorship program and today Student Success Agency has over 100 paid near-peer mentors working in the 2017-2018 school year. I have presented at The White House as a social entrepreneur impacting student success and was named to the 2018 Forbes 30 Under 30 Entrepreneur list in Education.
According to the American School Counselor Association, students receive only 38 minutes of counselor advising time each year, which makes it nearly impossible for students to have adequate guidance and direction on college and other education choices. Counselors have large caseloads and are only available during school hours when students are in class. Most students are working on college applications and scholarships after school when counselors and the student support services are closed, which means students have to wait until the following day to get help.
Since Student Success Agency is an online mobile support program that happens remotely, students can receive guidance at any time as long as they have a cell phone, tablet, or computer. Our mentors are college students who are close to their age and have recently had success going through the process themselves. This easy and available way to secure expertise is essential for students living in rural parts of the country and underserved areas. Because everything is remote, they don't have to rely on only local guidance and instead are able to move their applications forward and learn effective strategies to help with their scholarship opportunities regardless of the mentor location.
Do not be afraid to move away. I went out of state to the University of Oklahoma and moved to Norman, Oklahoma which was probably ten times the size of my hometown. When I arrived, I did not know many people, but that quickly changed as I took advantage of all the opportunities offered to college freshmen. I went to freshmen orientation, joined a handful of organizations, and really got to know my dorm-mates. Knowing you will miss your family and friends should not stop you because moving away allows you to increase your network for your future. While in college, I met my business partner, got an internship with a company, and built relationships with alumni who all helped me start Student Success Agency (and I stay in touch with my hometown pals too!).
I have a personal website where I help students by being a mentor in their pocket. Every week I send resources and videos that provide step by step guidance for students. When a student signs up, the first thing they receive is e-copies of my books absolutely free. Students should also explore other organizations like Strive for College and College Point where they can also receive some virtual support for free.
I do not think it is lack of resources but rather lack of support. Finding a mentor and connecting with a group of people who are chasing the same goals is a challenge. The internet is the greatest library and has tons of content and resources but staying motivated and keeping up with applications and scholarship deadlines is up to each individual. That is why a support system is so important – a caring adult or peer-mentor. My advice to students is to create an accountability system where you share your goals with someone who is going to check in and keep you focused. This is what our agents do for students.
I have seen a strong community empower students to think differently. I have worked with communities all across the country that create very unique opportunities for their students. Some schools will have career fairs, motivational speakers, and college application days, which builds a college-going culture.
Most students we work with have opportunities within their school to go on college visits. If your school ever has a field trip or chance for you to leave your town, students should do it. These experiences will allow you to see all that is available even just a few hours away.
Regardless if your parents or people from your community did not go to college, this does not mean they do not want to help you. Students should focus on sharing their career plans and long-term goals as everyone can relate to having dreams
Some schools have College Submission Days where seniors get an entire day off to just work on college applications. Some schools have AVID, which stands for Advancement Via Individual Determination, which is a college readiness program designed to help students develop the skills they need to be successful in college. There is also College Advising Corps that works to increase the number of low-income, first-generation college students, and underrepresented high school students who enter and complete higher education. This organization partners with school districts to fund another adviser at the school when counselors have high caseloads.
Ongoing support. Schools all across the country close their resources and services once the last bell rings, when students need help around the clock. We live in a digital and on-demand world so our schools need to start thinking that way by providing more access even if it means virtual support. Students need more accountability so the more caring adults you can place in students lives, the better.
Connect with students where they are -- on their phones. Every college should have texting programs where prospective students can text-in to learn more information about specific colleges. College representatives know that students are more likely to attend a college if they know someone on-campus so there needs to be more relationships built from the recruiting perspective for students from small towns. When college reps have that context, and can communicate this with prospective students, it will make going to college much more real and possible for rural students.
The common experience I see students deal with is loneliness or finding a community once in college. A lot of times, our students are the first of their family to go to college, or come from rural areas. The challenge is not dealing with being away from home, but finding ways not to stay so connected that you don't make new friends while on-campus. Unfortunately, students will walk across campus while still texting their friends and family, never having to get outside their comfort zones. With social media and entertainment at your fingertips, a lot of students are living on college campuses, but technically still operating as if they are back home.
Student Success Agency aims to become the first student text support center where students can receive guidance anywhere and anytime. We partner with districts to communicate what students are requesting from our mentors so these schools can support their students better during the school day. We are an affordable solution for families as we only charge $65 a month for students to join if their school does not pay for it in their school budget. We have created a waitlist where students can sign up and will be contacted when we have availability. For more info, visit: www.StudentSuccessAgency.com.
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.Learn more about Susan Schaurer
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Look carefully at the colleges students are considering attending to see what types of resources and supports are offered on-campus. For example, do the colleges they're considering applying to offer Open Educational Resources (OERs) to reduce the cost of textbooks? Do they offer bus passes to offset transportation costs? How about meal plans and food pantries?Learn more about Amelia Leighton Gamel
I've held several positions on my campus including tenured faculty member, Faculty Fellow of Equity & Diversity, administrator for the Center for Student Success, and adjunct instructor.
In each position, I've taken a variety of opportunities to assist students from under resourced areas with the college application process and campus experience. At times, the supports have been campus-wide, and at other times the supports have been one-on-one where I've worked individually with students.
For example, on a macro level, I founded and developed two campus student success initiatives specifically for African American students, Men of Merit and Sisters of Strength. The initiatives brought student participants together weekly, offered monthly African American guest speakers who were successful professionals, and provided discussion around selected books that addressed challenges and successes of African American men.
On a micro level, I've helped students complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FASA), attended meetings with students and their advisors, introduced students to faculty members, and spoke with their parents, grandparents, and other family members.
I've acted as a reference for student worker positions and other jobs, advocated for students with faculty, deans, and student judicial boards, and on some occasions helped students locate legal representation and went with them to arraignments and hearings. With so many students struggling with the absence of resources, including food insecurities, I've helped students access groceries, bus passes, and gas.
The application process often begins while students are still in high school.
High schools situated in urban areas are oftentimes under resourced and understaffed, leaving gaps in providing students with necessary support and guidance to choose colleges that are accredited, offer degrees in the areas in which students are interested, and are cost friendly.
Students from urban areas are typically from low-income families, making applying for financial aid a part of the college application process. Families from urban areas sometimes have feelings of distrust among government institutions, including colleges and universities, and may feel uncomfortable disclosing personal and financial information on financial aid forms. Some families have such strong feelings that they refuse to reveal information necessary to complete the financial aid application.
Further, students from underserved urban communities are sometimes in situations where they have to live with someone other than their parents. Living with a relative such as a grandmother, aunt, or older sibling can prompt their applications to be selected for a Verification request. Verification requests require additional documents from students' families to confirm information originally submitted. The Verification request can delay the financial aid process and disbursement of funds.
Look carefully at the colleges students are considering attending to see what types of resources and supports are offered on-campus. For example, do the colleges they're considering applying to offer Open Educational Resources (OERs) to reduce the cost of textbooks? Do they offer bus passes to offset transportation costs? How about meal plans and food pantries?
Oftentimes students from underserved areas are first generation college students (students whose parents didn't earn a college degree). It's important that these students explore the availability of social and academic supports for first generation students to help them navigate the transition to higher education.
Students from underserved areas are often students of color. Students should consider checking out the diversity of the campus. Are several racial and ethnic groups represented on-campus among both students and faculty? How active is the office of equity and diversity? Have there been racial incidents on-campus and if so, how have campus leaders responded?
Location, which is oftentimes overlooked, is one of the most important items students from underserved urban areas should consider before applying to college, especially when the location of a college is in a rural area.
Here's why: students from urban areas, who are accustomed to the inner city but choose colleges just outside the city or in rural areas often don't anticipate the isolation and inconvenience of rural living - until they are already on campus.
Students from urban areas are often accustomed to being within walking distance to stores, restaurants, food trucks, movie theatres, bus stops, clinics, and community agencies. Friends, family, and extended family, too, are often only blocks away. Students from urban areas often haven't needed or been able to afford cars and find themselves on rural campuses with no transportation miles from the commerce and convenience of the city. These students who are distant from social support systems often struggle with feelings of homesickness, boredom, isolation, and anxiety in their new environments.
I would go as far to say that other than academic proficiency, a rural campus location is one of the largest deterrents of success among students from urban areas.
Students from urban areas sometimes attend schools with subpar resources, less qualified teachers, and fewer guidance counselors, which hinders or stymies academic preparation.
Students from urban areas who have missed, or have been guided away from, college preparatory classes are often lacking proficient skills to begin their college experience with credit-bearing classes. Many students need at least one remedial course most often in reading, writing, or math.
The lack of tangible resources such as technological devices and internet access can also impact students' ability to locate information, complete forms, and access helpful software apps.
It's common knowledge our environments shape our beliefs. With this in mind, it makes sense that the culture of a community and its attitudes towards academics would impact students' feelings, attitudes, and beliefs about education. For example, when communities pass mileages, sponsor or host educational events, participate in Community Reads, and publically celebrate the academic successes of their community members, they foster a value for education and higher learning.
College access centers can be a valuable source of assistance that can help prospective college students with the college application process and financial aid applications.
Prospective students can also contact colleges directly to talk with admissions representatives, advisors, or even program lead faculty to get information about how to begin planning for college. Students can request campus tours, meetings with student navigators or advisors, or attend campus events.
Upcoming students can also tap into colleges' social media pages and other independent sites to gather information to plan their college experience.
Another place to find help in planning for college is through a role model or mentor who has attended college and earned a degree. This could be a teacher, family member, or member of the community.
Many high schools are connecting with local colleges and promoting College Nights, where students can visit college campuses with their parents and family members to talk to financial aid representatives, advisors, and lead faculty members. High schools are also providing college visits and tours to students who are seniors.
I would like to see more communication and collaboration between high schools and colleges in regard to academic expectations, so high schools are aware of the skills students need to begin their higher education experience with college level, credit-bearing classes.
Lack of transportation is the largest obstacle for students located in remote communities. Providing shuttles or public transportation options would help students access college campuses and other resources.
It's likely that colleges and universities that provide transportation would also increase student retention and persistence. When students from remote communities have the means to arrive on-campus as well as a way to return to campus after holiday and seasonal breaks, they are more likely to persist.
Mentorship is critical for the success of underrepresented, under resourced students.
Colleges, however, should be cautious about implementing mandatory mentoring programs that randomly assign mentors to all first year students. These types of artificial mentoring programs are often unwelcome by students. Instead, mentorship programs should be completely voluntary, both for the students and the campus mentors, to capitalize on the impact of making connections, building relationships and a sense of belonging (just like we know is effective in the classroom).
If you truly want to go to college, you can do it. Keep asking questions wherever you can; whether it be your high school counselor, or one of your favorite teachers, just keep asking. Find and take advantage of any and every resource that may be available to you, even if you have to go on a quest to find it.Learn more about Clarissa Vasquez
Hello, my name is Clarissa Vasquez I am currently a junior at The University of New Mexico where I am majoring in family and child studies. I am originally from Las Cruces, New Mexico. My mother is originally from Juarez, Mexico and my father from Los Angeles, California. Neither one of my parents attended college, but they both received their high school diplomas. I have an older half sister and half brother who both completed high school, but neither one of them attended college. When I was applying to college, I did the majority of it on my own. I had a little bit of guidance from my high school counselor on how to apply, but that was about it. My parents have never had to apply for college so they could not help me all that much. I was not sure of where I should apply or how many colleges I should apply to. Somehow I managed to submit all my applications and I got accepted into The University of New Mexico as well as New Mexico State University.
How about for those who may not have the resources to travel to visit campuses in other areas of the country?
In my experience applying to college from a rural area, there were not a lot of resources to help a first generation student navigate through how to apply, when to apply, and where to apply. There was no one to guide me through applying for financial aid or scholarships. For me, I was not able to travel to UNM's Albuquerque campus until I was accepted and came to orientation. I did not see the campus until orientation, so I chose this university strictly based on what I had learned from their website and through my own research. I could only imagine if I had wanted to go somewhere out of state, trying to apply and visit the university before hand would have been even more difficult.
Some advice that I would give fellow students from underserved rural areas would be to never give up on your dreams. If you truly want to go to college, you can do it. Keep asking questions wherever you can; whether it be your high school counselor, or one of your favorite teachers, just keep asking. Find and take advantage of any and every resource that may be available to you, even if you have to go on a quest to find it. I am three years into college and my tuition is paid for in full by financial aid. I never saw myself going to graduate school, but that is my next goal, and I will stop at nothing to achieve it.
I think you should begin with your school's counselor. They usually can aid you in the college planning process. It may take a while to see them if they are helping a lot of other students with the same process or with graduation in general. If so, I would recommend asking a trusted teacher. They may be able to help you get started and may be a great support system to help keep you motivated and encouraged throughout your college journey.
In what ways did this impact your views of college?
I would say a large percentage of my hometown did attend college. There is a university in my hometown, where many of my peers attended. This impacted my views of college because it made it more important. I didn't really start to think about attending college until I was a sophomore in high school, because I was seeing some of my senior friends graduating and going on to attend college. I always knew that my parents would like for me to go to college, but I didn't see the importance of it until I saw my friends attending.
I feel like my community's attitude toward pursuing higher education was pretty influential. No one ever put down the goal of going to college; they encouraged it. There were incentives that seniors looked forward to if they were attending college. There were award ceremonies for scholarships you had won, and you would be recognized publicly for these. On sports teams, there would be “senior nights” where you would be recognized in front of the whole stadium or gym, where your chosen school would be announced.
What is one thing you would like to see them adopt?
There would be little things you look forward to, like senior nights and award ceremonies. Something I think they should adopt is more resources for students to apply and learn about college before senior year.
More recruitment would be beneficial by sending resources out to underserved communities. A mentorship program would also be an awesome way for colleges and universities to encourage and support students.
I did find the transition moving from a rural community to an urban area a bit difficult. Moving away from the place I grew up all my life, to a place I knew no one and was not familiar with was hard. I had to deal with homesickness and figuring out how to navigate my life on my own.
Not necessarily, maybe just the intensity of my homesickness.
The College Enrichment Program really helped me with my transitions because not only did I work there, but they truly made me feel like I had a home away from home. The advisors were so supportive, and were willing and eager to help me with anything I might have needed. To this day, the people of the College Enrichment Program are like family. The College Enrichment Program offers student mentors for incoming freshmen to utilize as a resource coming into college life.
I hope all rural students continue to pursue their higher education dreams. I believe if we all try and reach out a helping hand, more underserved students from rural areas will continue on to higher education and make their dreams and goals come true.
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According to the U.S. Department of Education, “nearly half of all students who begin college do not graduate within six years.” The impact of completing a degree is undeniable - bachelor degree graduates have higher lifetime earnings than those with just a high school diploma, and it is predicted that two-thirds of jobs will require some college or postsecondary training by 2020. But reaching college and successfully graduating means overcoming a host of challenges, such as being academically ready and able to pay for college.
40% of students in urban locales attend high poverty schools — defined as schools with more than 40% of students receiving free or reduced price lunch.
These challenges are faced by college-bound high school students in rural and urban areas, too, and are often amplified by characteristics related to their location. Johns Hopkins University's Center for Technology in Education reports that “40% of students in urban locales attend high poverty schools (defined as schools with more than 40% of students receiving free or reduced price lunch).” This number is 10% of suburban students and 25% of those in rural locations. The study also found that “students in urban schools have lower achievement scores” than suburban students.
According to a report from the American Youth Policy Forum, while rural school districts serve smaller numbers of students than urban and suburban districts, they are likely to have more limited funding that results in problems with teacher recruitment and the development of specialized curriculum to support students' college and career preparation. In addition, the National Center for Education Statistics reports that the percentage of adults age 25 and over who have earned a bachelor's degree or higher is lower in rural communities (22%) than in city (34%) or suburban (35%) locations. This means fewer college-educated role models for these students are living in their communities.
the percentage of adults age 25 and over who have earned a bachelor's degree or higher is lower in rural communities (22%) than in city (34%) or suburban (35%) locations
From making initial decisions about pursuing a college education to navigating the application and admissions process, urban and rural students face an extended set of challenges. While there may be school-based resources in place to prepare these prospective students, these efforts alone may not be enough. What can high school students in these locations do to improve their readiness to meet these challenges before they apply? Three strategies include: becoming more familiar with college campus culture, considering a wide range of higher education options, and working closely with an experienced mentor.
Looking for opportunities to visit college campuses, any college campuses, before graduating from high school is a good place to start, including local institutions, even if they aren't on a student's list. Check the campus tour schedule. These are often led by current students who can answer questions about what college is like and what to expect. It may be possible to visit out-of-town colleges through events offered directly by the colleges themselves, such as Fly-In programs). Other opportunities may exist through pre-college programs, such as TRiO's Upward Bound. Ask teachers about school-based clubs that travel to campuses for meetings and events. Attend “College Night” and similar programs offered through high schools to meet representatives from multiple colleges who can answer questions about applications, admissions, financial aid, and more.
When you think of “college” what does that mean to you? Initial thoughts might center on large state universities, small community colleges and technical schools close to home, or anything in between. Begin the exploration of what it means to go to college by expanding your research to include not only your initial thoughts, but also a wider range of possibilities. There are many ways to earn a college degree. Finding the best fit is a personalized search that can include everything from which majors are offered and what scholarships are available to the availability of a cross-campus transportation shuttle and specific student clubs and activities.
By definition, a mentor is “a trusted counselor or guide.” Some rural and urban schools lack resources in school advising - there just aren't enough counselors to go around. Finding someone who can provide one-on-one guidance throughout the college application and decision-making process isn't easy, but it's important for each student who is thinking about college to not only identify someone who can provide this kind of advice, but also initiate a conversation about mentorship. This person could be a teacher, principal, career or school counselor, coach, tutor, church or community group leader, a neighbor or relative with college experience, or other adult that can answer questions, provide advice, and make connections with possible resources.
Our thought leaders point out that getting urban and rural high school students to college “takes a village.” This happens through partnerships and coordinated initiatives, as well as the initiative of each interested student to get familiar with what college will be like and how the whole process of applying, getting accepted, and choosing a school works.
In addition to the academic services offered by your high school or college, these resources can be used to augment your efforts to prepare for college-level course work, and gain additional practice with more complex topics.
Urban Education Module - Hosted by Johns Hopkins University, this site provides resources designed to assist school, community, and business partnerships to support the needs of students in K-12 urban school settings.
Campus Setting: Rural, Suburban, Urban - Which environment is right for you? The College Board presents some of the key characteristics of colleges situated in different locations prompting topics for further research and ideas about finding your best fit.
College Advising Corps - A national organization affiliated with Americorps and the National Partnership for Educational Access, this group supports the work of high school counselors providing admissions and financial aid guidance to high-need students who are applying to college.