Getting poor students to college isn't just about affordability. It's about access. (+video)
Students from low-income communities need the same mentoring, leadership opportunities, and support through the college application process as their higher-income peers. Strategic partnerships between K-12 schools and local colleges are a key part of this exposure.
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Two key tenets guide the partnership. First is the recognition that these students need role models to boost their aspirations. Second is that, despite their personal circumstances, their schools must expect more of them, not less. The results present a telling picture.Skip to next paragraph
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Currently, 99 percent of the students who participate in our program graduate from high school, and 96 percent of these students go on to college. Ours is not the only program to improve awareness of and access to college among low-income students. Like any successful initiative, our partnership has three key components, or messages for students:
Make college top-of-mind early and often. Common practice is to hold events like college fairs for students in high school. Yet much of the work that has to happen to prepare for college entrance begins much earlier. For that reason, elementary schools in our program begin college readiness activities as early as first grade, to instill the vision of a college education when the kids are still young. Exposure and expectation are key, and they must start early.
Many elementary school students and all of those in later grades are also peered with mentors who are just a bit older and who have a lot in common with them. These mentors reinforce the belief that, with hard work and persistence, they can and will attend college. The message: I’m a lot like you, and if I can succeed, you can, too.
Lead others, regardless of your personal circumstances. While many students in the program face significant economic and social barriers, the program takes what might seem like a counterintuitive approach to addressing them. Instead of asking less of students to accommodate those challenging external factors, we ask more of our students. We ask them to proactively tackle problems by strengthening their communities.
Every student is expected to engage in leadership activities that support their local community and/or school. Activities vary based on each student’s interests and often require them to do things beyond their comfort zone, such as public speaking or organizing a school-wide college awareness event. These activities build discipline and strengthen personal aspirations, leading the students to realize they can improve the lives of others even though they’ve faced significant challenges of their own.
With help, you can navigate the journey to college. All K-12 schools in the program have partnerships with neighboring colleges. Many students end up with mentors from those colleges, and virtually all spend time on college campuses – an experience that can be transformative to students who have never set foot on one. The students also get help from college students and alumni and even older peers who help them navigate the maze of application and financial aid forms. And throughout the process, their aspirations are reinforced.
The journey from preparation to entrance to graduation is still difficult, but through the support of this network, they have the guidance that’s customary for upper-income kids every step of the way. And it takes only $250 per student annually.
These partnerships between the colleges and K-12 schools are based on the mutual recognition that educated students lead to educated college graduates and, in turn, young people who are ready to work and get our economy back on track.
Rick Dalton is president and CEO of College for Every Student.