Friday, April 17, 2009

Improving College Access Without Breaking the Bank

by Daniel Bennett and Michael J. Carter*

Inside Higher Ed published a story on Thursday that discussed how Virginia Community Colleges are using "career coaches" at the high school level to assist students with the college planning process. The coaching program reaches out to students deemed in need of the most help - namely college-qualified students who would be first generation college-bound, but are often neglected by their guidance counselors "in favor of their gifted or at-risk peers", according to the IHE article. Early indications are that the program has been successful, as "community college enrollments...grew 7 percentage points more last academic year out of high schools that have coaches than from those that do not."

Similarly, a national effort is underway by Strive for College Collaborative, a non-profit organization that offers a comprehensive approach to correcting the inequalities of college access by focusing on both the lack of information and motivation. (Full Disclosure: Michael Carter is the founder and president of Strive for College.) Strive is the ‘last mile’ – serving low-income high school students who have already proven themselves academically qualified to gain admission at a four-year college or university. Strive delivers a customized curriculum for these students and recruits undergraduates from local universities to serve as mentors, guiding them through the process of applying to, enrolling in and paying for four-year colleges and universities.

Beginning in the spring of a high school student’s junior year, the Strive program provides thorough college counseling, covering every aspect of the admissions process – from choosing the right school to personal essays to financial aid and paying for college. This engaging curriculum, customized and delivered through Strive’s online system, was developed by the nation’s top counselors, admissions experts and financial aid consultants. Strive’s online component allows any student in the country to benefit from the curriculum for free.

To compliment Strive’s curriculum, each Strive Chapter pairs undergraduate student mentors with high school students to act as a guide and role model through the college application process. The chapter system allows Strive to expand with nearly limitless potential across the country. Chapters develop local partnerships and tailor the Strive program to fit local students’ needs as each chapter becomes an integrated part of the community.

The Obama Administration has clearly stated that improving access to college is top priority, yet it has thus far not unveiled a clear strategy for achieving this goal. Perhaps the administration and the Department of Education should consider using a portion of their budgets to spur innovation through funding initiatives such as Strive and the Virginia coaching program. This would be a welcome change to the failed efforts to improve access by increasing financial aid and subsidization, as described in a new report by CCAP’s Andrew Gillen.

Gillen suggests that the current financial aid process has failed to achieve its objectives to increase access, increase affordability and promote equality of opportunity. The current financial aid model falsely assumes that dropping money out of airplanes over college campuses will in some way fix these problems, without addressing the root of the them. The lack of discernible information and a lack of quality assistance in college planning for first generation and low-income college-bound students may very well be much greater than the supposed insufficient funding (the US spends more per capita on education than any other country in the world).

Maybe it is time to consider some new approaches to achieve these goals. Perhaps instead of going on a spending spree and throwing money at the problem in hopes that it will go away, the Obama Administration can try funding innovative and cost-efficient solutions that organizations such as Strive and the career coaching program in Virginia provide. These programs appear to be very promising at providing quality mentoring to the neediest qualified students and thus, improving affordable access to college. It is time that we look past the flawed methods of the past and try something new. With any luck, we might kill two birds with one stone - improving affordability and improving access, without breaking the bank.

*Michael Carter is the Founder and President of Strive for College

1 comment:

Shelley said...

Thank you for your work, and for highlighting "Strive for College" in this post... I've added it to the resource list associated with Steve Hargadon's presentation about the possible intersection of social media and efforts to improve college access, archived here.