Let’s Put More Students on The Path to College

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Your parents were right. It pays to go to college.

Research shows that those with higher levels of education earn more, pay more taxes, and are more likely than others to be employed. Of course, the gains aren’t just financial. Those with secondary degrees are also more likely to be associated with healthier lifestyles (exercising more and reducing healthcare costs), to be more active citizens, and are more likely to be involved in their children’s activities – putting the next generation on the path to healthier, more productive lives.

It seems like a win/win. Help others attain college degrees and we not only better their lives, but our connected society, as well. So why are we not focused on fixing a system that most of us acknowledge is broken? Why aren’t we encouraging students to pursue higher education by proactively fixing the path that allows them to do so?

We believe putting more people on the path to college begins with three things.

Adopting a Common, Simplified Admissions Procedure

If you are a fan of the Frank blog or social media channels (Follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram!), you’ve heard this plea before. However, it bears repeating. The admissions process for most schools isn’t just confusing, it is a downright mess says Marjorie Shaevitz. A student applying to multiple colleges must navigate through each school’s specific and varying set of needs. This includes being aware of the different tests needed for each (tests you need to have completed before you apply, and which are only held at certain times during the year), unique admissions procedures, and deadlines to follow. Even the language and terminology may differ from school to school. Just because you understand the process for one college, does not mean that process is repeatable. You often start from scratch with each school you add. After a while, it kind of makes you not want to apply… potentially affecting your life choices for, well, ever.

Applying and attending has gotten so confusing that the Senate has involved itself to help students better understand their college options. It’s a start, but we need more.

Real steps much be taken to develop a common, simplified path to higher education if we are serious about creating a more educated, healthier society. It’s our responsibility to do right by students and to help them make educated decisions about their futures.

Reaching Students Where They Are, In Their Own Language

Working hand-in-hand with simplifying the process is encouraging those in a position of authority – admissions officers, guidance counselors, etc. – to bear some of the burden in doing so. The way students consume and seek out information has changed drastically through technology – how are we changing with it? How much are we adapting to students vs. expecting them to adapt to us, and what can we do to ease the process?

At Frank, we’ve turned the process for applying for financial aid on its head, making it possible for students to apply for financial aid in just minutes — increasing the likelihood that they complete the process and get the financial assistance they need. That’s a start.

But what if you’re an admissions officer – consider the technology at your fingertips. You’re no longer forced to communicate strictly through slow-moving, formally-worded pieces of snail mail. How can you use technology to not only identify your most engaged applicants, but to further that engagement and to be more responsive to their needs? Some colleges and universities have started texting with students. Why not every student will grant you that level of access, how valuable is it to you for those who do? Not only will it help you identify those serious about your school, but it gives you direct access to get you what you need, to help a student get what they need, and it’s a value add for why a student should choose you to begin with.

Adapting to students’ needs and meeting them where they are may not mean a text-based relationship. Maybe it’s a closed Facebook group for applicants, a weekly Twitter chat, a LinkedIn group, or more one-on-one visits. We know students are out there with questions, so seek them out and help connect them with the answers they need, in their own language.

Diversifying Campuses – Students & Faculty

College enrollment rates continue to rise, however, gaps in enrollment rates and patterns persist across demographic and ethnic groups. Getting more students on the path to college, means a concentrated effort on getting all students on that path, and doing a better job at attracting those predisposed to fall off or who may not think to get on in the first place.

For college completion rates to increase for diverse student populations, we must attract more people to the higher education process to begin with. This means looking at race and ethnicity, along with gender, age, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic status. On the high school level, guidance counselors have the opportunity to play a huge role in this process.

The rising cost of higher education presents a huge obstacle to all students, but especially to those from less advantaged or minority backgrounds. If it’s difficult for a student from a middle-class background to navigate through the admissions process, that same process becomes near impossible to those not as advantaged. Students from minority or low-income homes often have less support and a harder time understanding the process. Assigning students with educational navigators – people designated to act as this support system – provides a safety net that helps more students get into college.

On the admissions side, strategic diversity recruitment, partnerships with multicultural associations, and organizing events for underrepresented groups can aid to the feeling of inclusive happening on higher-ed campuses.

Once they are there, students need to feel as though they belong. Earlier this year, Nick Morrison wrote that it’s not enough for working class kids to get into college, we need to help them feel as though they are wanted. Last year, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development awarded $2.5 million to help youth living in public housing afford college… but will they feel comfortable when they get there? That same question applies to many other student sets. What can we do to kill feelings of imposter syndrome and to create an environment where, regardless of your background, you are made to feel welcome? Often this means increasing diversity not only in those attending the college, but those who teach, lecture and staff it, as well. For students to feel welcomed, they need to see and hear from people who look, sound and live like them.

The College Payoff is Real

The path to college is paved with roadblocks that trip up potential students and distract them from their end goal. But it doesn’t have to be. If we’re serious about our future, we need to be serious about committing to real, systemic changes that redefine admissions and enrollment practices, and the campus culture as well. All students should have the right, not the privilege, of becoming the best, most informed and productive members of society they can be. These goals are no longer idealistic rhetoric, but social mandate.

With studies that show college-educated students become an asset to our larger society, we must commit to making it easier for students to access that education. Through the small, but achievable, steps we’ve outlined above, we can begin to make meaningful change. We, as a society, deserve that level of quality citizenship. In a divided nation, in a tumultuous world, it may be our best and only chance, at a prosperous future.