Educational Barriers - Support

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At, we are consistently reminded that every student's college experience is unique, and that some students face a distinctly difficult path. Studies have found that less than 10% of foster kids graduate from college, around 14% of community college students are homeless, 30% of all incoming freshman are the first in their families to go to college, and 26% of undergraduates are raising dependent children. While all of these students face different challenges throughout their academic journeys, most of them share a common experience – a story of support.

Support can be emotional, physical, financial, academic, or spiritual, and when it comes to education, support in all its forms is one of the greatest influencers of student success. But what happens to the students who do not have a support system at home, school, or work? For every student in the studies above, there are many more who never made it to college, or who didn't even believe they could apply. Lack of support is one of the greatest roadblocks to education, affecting all demographics of students. Without emotional encouragement, advice from knowledgeable resources, and physical and financial support, getting through college becomes a much harder challenge, but not an insurmountable one.

Educators, colleges, high schools, families, community groups, non-profit organizations, and college planning sites need to engage with this issue on a deeper level. Simply providing facts about the application process is not enough. We need to teach these students what it truly takes to succeed, where to find the support resources they need to get there, and perhaps most importantly, that they have someone who believes in them and in their academic goals.

To better explore this issue, we gathered a diverse group of individuals from colleges, non-profit organizations, and those with personal experience to talk with us about the importance of a strong support system throughout the college application process. Each interview provides unique insight into how support fits within the framework of education; what roles a parent, school, mentor, and community should play in aiding their students; and crucial advice for students to help them achieve their academic goals. The takeaway? We want to inspire you to continue this dialogue and support someone's college dreams in your community.

Making the transition from high school to college, from work to college, from military service to college, or from one college to another (i.e., transfer students), requires some level of support. This can be physical, emotional, spiritual, academic, or medical as schools work to provide safe environments that encourage and enhance learning achievement.

What is Student Support?

Not sure what to major in? Having trouble keeping up in your chemistry course? Dealing with a crisis at home that's affecting your school work? Not sure how you'll pay for college next year? These are just a few situations in which student support services can improve your educational experience. Working with support services professionals at your school opens up access to resources. This support can come in many forms, such as assistance (e.g., scholarships, tutoring), guidance (e.g., career center counseling, academic advising), and encouragement (e.g., coaching, mentoring,).

Today's new college students will find more support available than ever before as colleges and universities invest in and expand a variety of services and resources for on-campus and online students. However, not every institution offers every service. It's critical that you understand what is available, and ask questions when you can't find the support you need.

Creating a Support System

There are many ways that students are supported as they decide to go to college, fill out their applications, and finally transition to campus for their first year. College readiness includes a wide range of knowledge and skills. ACT's most recent survey of educators at all educational levels (i.e., early elementary school through college) looked at how students are prepared for college and careers in four categories of readiness.

Preparing for college starts at school. Academic readiness may be the first thing that comes to mind. But there are additional areas to consider, such as being able to work effectively with others, solve problems, use technology, and motivate yourself to complete the requirements for graduation.

ACT Complete - Domains of Education and Career Readiness

  1. Core Academic Skills - English, reading, math, science knowledge and skills
  2. Cross-cutting Capabilities - problem solving, critical thinking, technology and information literacy
  3. Behavioral Skills - acting honestly, working well with others, remaining calm, confidence
  4. Education and Career Navigation Skills - developing action plans, making informed decisions

Source: National Curriculum Survey, 2016 (p. 2)

In which of these areas will you need support as a new college student? Your support system should include a combination of campus-based offices, as well as family- and community-based resources. If you aren't sure where to start, begin with your parents and extended family who have experienced higher education. Start asking your teachers about their time as college students. Advice from those who have been there can help you collect the resources you'll need to make the best possible decisions about college and succeed once you enroll.

First-Generation Students

Students whose parents have not attended college may find themselves facing additional challenges in their pursuit of a college degree. According to the I'm first! initiative, “it is estimated that 30% of students enrolled in postsecondary institutions today are low income, first-generation college students.” This organization also reports that first-generation students are four times more likely to drop out than their classmates whose parents have gone to college.

Parents with college degrees can provide their college-bound children with advice based on first-hand experience. They may also be able to offer their children access to a network of college-graduates through alumni affiliations. Students without this kind of support must rely on getting the equivalent information and resources in different ways, beginning well before it's time to complete college applications.
Fortunately, many institutions are actively engaging first generation students while they are in high school. Programs like The University of Iowa's First Generation Iowa, provide insights about college life and seek to ease the transition into becoming a college student. This kind of support continues after students enroll and can continue through graduation with activities such as summer orientations tailored for first-generation students, mentoring from first-generation upperclassmen, as well as research and internship opportunities created for first-generation students. Clemson University's FIRST Program is just one example.

First-Term Success

Finding and using the resources you need is particularly important in your first year of college. According to U.S. News, “as many as 1 in 3 first-year students won't make it back for sophomore year.” The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center finds that “about 1 in 9 freshmen transfer elsewhere for their sophomore year.”

The reasons students choose to drop out or transfer are many. They may struggle with grades, financial considerations, managing a disability, balancing school with home and work responsibilities, for example. While there are many challenges to overcome in the transition to college, research shows that persisting through that first year of classes is a predictor for success.

Getting past the first year, either by staying put or by transferring to another institution, is one of the most important milestones to a college degree.

A study from Hanover Research provides a list specific strategies that institutions can implement to help students persist through that first academic year. Students should make the most of these opportunities by participating in activities, such as:

- Attending academic advising appointments
- Participating in student clubs, organizations, and student life events
- Connecting with individual faculty members
- Engaging in support services, such as counseling and writing centers
- Attending orientation and academic readiness seminars
- Connecting with mentoring and coaching programs

Explore the retention rate, defined by the U.S. Department of Education as “the percentage of a school's first-time, first-year undergraduate students who continue at that school the next year.” And ask any schools you are applying to about their rate and efforts to improve it through creating effective student support services.

Resources for Academic Support

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.

Purdue Online Writing Lab: This extensive online resource provides free access to writing guides and examples. Whether you are writing a research paper, have a grammar question, need to know how to cite a specific source, or want to write an effective cover letter, the OWL can assist.

Wolfram MathWorld: Explore this online collection of math resources. You'll find online calculators, demonstrations, and articles designed to help you better understand a wide range of math and statistics concepts.
Khan Academy: Your school may already provide access to an online tutoring system. If not, this site offers brief tutorials to assist with and build upon the work you are doing in your classes, whether you need to get up to speed with the basics or want to advance beyond what you are already covering.

Resources for Transitional Support

Whether you are making the transition to college from high school, the military, or after time off to work and raise a family, getting ready for success takes some preparation. There are a number of organizations already providing resources and assistance that may make a positive difference in your experience as a new student.

Student Veterans of America: Explore the resources offered through this nonprofit organization online and through over 1500 chapters located at colleges nationwide. Individual members also have access to a scholarships program for veterans, as well as fellowship opportunities, national conferences, and mentoring systems.

College Parents of America: Parents of new college students can find helpful tips and resources through this organization's website. Look for checklists and articles focusing on a range of relevant topics from admissions and paying for college to student health and financial literacy.
National Center for College Students with Disabilities: This federally-funded center offers resources and assistance for students with any kind of disability. Search the clearinghouse and resource library for specific topics. A list of crisis hotlines is also provided.

Resources for First-Generation Students

Students who are the first in their families to attend college may encounter additional challenges in navigating a successful student experience. These resources are just a few of those designed to support and advise these students on everything from admissions to career decision making.

Tips for Finding a Support System in College: You don't have to rely solely on your friends and family to guide you through your transition to college. They should be a part of your support system, however. This guide shares strategies for building your own team of advisors, which can include parents, college counselors, classmates, and more.

America Needs You: This nonprofit partners with corporations and philanthropic groups to provide career development workshops, mentors, and career coaching to “high-achieving, low-income, first-generation college students” in select locations across the U.S.
I'm First!: Connect with advisors and other students in this online community for first-generation learners. Developed by the Center for Student Opportunity, as part of the Strive for College initiative, this site's resources includes ways to get your college questions answered through student blogs, Google hangouts, and Twitter chats.

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