I am with mixed emotions as I write this Director’s Note. Since 2013, I have served as the director of the American College Application Campaign, as we developed and expanded into a strong, national initiative reaching every state and the District of Columbia. So, it is with excitement and sadness that I’ve decided to take the next path in my journey. Starting August 10, I will join myFutureNC as the director of regional impact, helping my state reach its attainment goals by the year 2030.
It has been an honor and privilege to watch your states help high school seniors navigate the complex college application and admissions process. Together, we have supported more than 3.36 million students submit more than 5.28 million applications since the inception of ACAC at a single high school in North Carolina. And I know even brighter days and opportunities are ahead of ACAC and the students we serve. We have already been exploring strategies our network of dedicated educators and state leaders can implement to support students whose postsecondary plans have been upended by the COVID-19 pandemic. While our focus now is on supporting the class of 2021 through the college application process in a world of social distancing and remote learning, by early 2021 we will begin rolling out training and resources to support our former students in getting back on the pathway to higher education.
ACAC is rooted in the belief that every student is college material and that education beyond high school remains the best investment students can make in themselves. That commitment to our students’ futures will continue as my dear friend and colleague, Lisa King, assumes the role of ACAC’s interim director, effective Monday, August 10. Like me, Lisa came to the national ACAC team after serving as her state’s ACAC coordinator. She has been critical to our growth as a national initiative since joining the team in 2016 and her deep knowledge and dedication to this important work will ensure ACAC’s continued success.
As part of my farewell, I am thrilled to share with you the new Schools of Excellence award program. The 2019 Schools of Excellence, which include winners from 20 states and the District of Columbia, have been chosen as exemplars of commitment to student success. Along with public recognition, each school received a plaque. ACAC plans to honor schools each year.
Today’s newsletter is packed with information to help us kick off a new college application season, while navigating the twists and turns COVID-19 has placed in our traditional path of support. Please help us promote the available resources and events to ensure counselors, college advisors and others within your network have the tools they need to help students navigate the path to college. We will continue adding resources as we hear from our state coordinators to support the transition to virtual application events where needed. If you have ideas or suggestions for new resources, email us at [email protected].
This year will be our fourth annual #WhyApply Day. On Friday, September 18, everyone is encouraged to head to their favorite social media channels and share supportive and motivating messages about the importance of applying to college. Be sure to use the hashtag #WhyApply when sharing your photo or video. To prepare for #WhyApply Day, we will host a #WhyApply Twitter chat on Thursday, September 10 to discuss how to engage in #WhyApply Day and why encouragement and celebration of the college application process is an important part of the steps to college.
Thank you for taking this journey with me. I can’t wait to see what the next decade holds for ACAC!
State Spotlight: Florida
Lessons from Hurricane Irma: Keeping students on a postsecondary pathway
Author: Lisa King, senior communications specialist, ACAC
The class of 2021 is gearing up for a senior year with many unknowns, including what the college application process will look like. While there is much uncertainty today, we can look at past experiences where communities came together during a crisis to find new and unique ways to support students to ensure they keep their postsecondary goals in mind and apply to college.
In September 2017, Florida experienced widespread destruction from Hurricane Irma. Schools were closed and turned into shelters, and many in the community didn’t have electricity in their homes. But amidst the destruction, Collier County was able to quickly pivot from traditional in-person, school-based events and keep their students on track for college.
Before examining what Collier County did during the 2017 hurricane season, it’s important to understand, since 2015, community leaders had been working together through Future Ready Collier, a Collective Impact network of more than 60 partnering organizations. Together, the network establishes concrete goals and strategies that are aligned and leveraged across organizations to ensure every child in Collier County is Future Ready.
This partnership and trust allowed Future Ready Collier to quickly fill the gap to support college application and FAFSA completion events when Hurricane Irma quickly changed its course, with 29 schools housing 17,000 people as shelters.
“Our community and district leaders weren’t afraid to keep pushing forward when Hurricane Irma hit,” said Lisa Church, chief community impact officer, Champions for Learning. “We met 10 days after Irma, with no power and air conditioning being pumped into the room and asked ourselves ‘What are we most worried about?’ and the response was the seniors completing their college applications and FAFSA, and we decided to keep the already-scheduled network-wide meeting” Champions For Learning is a partner with and backbone organization supporting Future Ready Collier. Church shared that at least 80 individuals attended the network-wide meeting and had blunt conversations about how to re-prioritize to assess what was most important in the context of Irma recovery, which lead to a focus on the senior class and shifting the college access and financial aid resources to be delivered differently. This led to Future Ready Collier shifting their resources and in-person roadshow to a virtual model with individualized support from partners to help with FAFSA completion.
Fast forward to 2020, and though the group can’t get in a room together, they are still leveraging the Collective Impact framework and relationships. The group has met virtually three times since March with more than 120 individuals and organizations represented sharing community updates and concerns.
“The deep-rooted trust we’ve built together through Irma and now COVID have contributed to us working toward the same objectives,” said Church. “It’s not a competition when you realize many of our individual programs have helped mutual families. Instead, we focus on what we want to see as a community.”
Virtual resources are being created and shared this summer by Champions For Learning. As information is released around key college access benchmarks, virtual resources are being created and shared with students and families across the county. You can find many of the resources already available on the Champions For Learning website.
A college application video series about the application process, scholarships, and financial aid is also in process. Additionally, they are brainstorming creative ways to reach students like setting up a station to assist with college applications at school meal pick-up locations.
“Listen to what your counselors need to make their job easier,” said Jessica Manchette, vice president, Champions For Learning. “Community partners should be there to complement and support their work. Spend time trying to predict what the different scenarios will be. And remember to remain flexible and ready to pivot at a moment’s notice.”
Engaging community partners to support your school’s college application program is always an effective ACAC practice and will be especially so in the time of COVID-19. Think creatively about who your partners are in the community who can support the awareness building, information sharing, and application completion process. Engage them early and often to support your students’ success. ACAC is hosting a webinar “How to Host a College Application Event” on Tuesday, August 11, to provide recommendations for supporting students through the application process even when we can’t host traditional events. Hear from school counselors as they share their past experiences in addition to their anticipated plans for this fall.
Future Ready Collier promotes an upcoming virtual Rising Senior Workshop hosted by Champions For Learning.
Partner Spotlight: NACAC
Making the Case for College During COVID-19
Author: Angel Pérez, chief executive officer, NACAC
COVID-19 has thrown a wrench into the best laid plans of students and families seeking postsecondary education. Yet despite the current challenges, it’s important for students and families to know that obtaining a college education has never been more important. Students who pursue education after high school have a better chance in life, and all predictions about the future of work show that a college education will be essential for success. Adults with postsecondary credentials are more likely to:
- be active and engaged citizens: 73% of college graduates age 25-44 voted in 2016, compared to 41% of high school graduates, and were twice as likely as high school graduates to volunteer and be involved in community initiatives;
- earn more over a lifetime: Analysis of income data place the lifetime earnings value of a college degree, as opposed to a high school diploma, between $400,000 and nearly $1 million; and
- engage in healthy behaviors: 69% of recent college graduates engaged in exercise as part of their regular routine, compared to 47% of high school graduates, and college graduates overall were 44% more likely to report overall good health than high school graduates.
Conveying the benefits of higher education, and its diverse options can help students cross the threshold. The pathways to a degree or certificate are many: career and technical training, community college, and four-year colleges. In fact, more than 1/3 of all students will transfer between colleges at some point on their path to a degree. When most Americans picture “college,” they usually imagine a four-year, highly selective, residential bucolic campus. However, the postsecondary education landscape is extremely diverse, and students have more options than ever before. Many will be surprised to know that the average acceptance rate at four-year colleges is 65%, a far cry from the hyper-selective colleges many of us read about in the media.
Admittedly, the admissions and financial aid process is complex, and families can find it overwhelming. NACAC maintains resources to help distribute to students and families to demystify the process, including information about college costs and value; assistance with the college search and application process; and helpful data about college admission. For many, the application fee can be a significant barrier. NACAC maintains an application fee waiver form, so if students cannot afford application fees, there is help, although it is ultimately up to colleges whether to grant. We also offer an enrollment deposit fee waiver, which can assist if the enrollment deposit is presents an insurmountable barrier, though it is again up to colleges as to whether they will waive the deposit fee.
In recent months, admissions and financial aid offices have converted all of their services to online platforms. Students can now do campus tours, information sessions, and financial aid counseling sessions all from their home. Students and families should contact admissions and financial aid offices directly and express interest. Colleges are more accessible than ever, and eager to hold a student’s hand. Resources at NACAC offer insight into the kinds of changes and accommodations colleges are making to continue recruiting in the fall.
Business as usual is a thing of the past. Students, families, and counseling professionals will be involuntary pioneers this year. However, we must keep our eyes on the prize and encourage students to stay focused and pursue their postsecondary dreams. If we do not pivot immediately and provide students with the resources they need to succeed, we are putting their lives, and the future of a nation at risk. Higher education is a public good and an educated citizenry makes our society stronger. Every student who aspires to postsecondary education should have the opportunity to do so. Let’s join forces and remove the barriers to make their dreams a reality.
On Tuesday, August 4, Angel Pérez was a panelist for the “Making the Case for College During COVID-19” webinar hosted by ACT’s Center for Equity in Learning. Watch the recording here.
Gap Year? Or Is it “COVID Melt”?
Author: Bryan Contreras, Vice President, K12 & Education Partnerships, myOptions®
K12 and higher education are buzzing with how the college matriculation and decision-making process have been turned upside down this summer. The headlines all highlight the headwinds and challenges for students: How will families meet the costs of college during our economic crisis? Will students be able to live on campus? Will classes be remote or in person? Will campuses even be open? It’s a lot for students and families to navigate on their own. And, it is the counselor’s role to help minimize the stress and streamline accurate information for students to be educated decision makers.
With this in mind, it is troubling to read how conflated the idea of a “gap year” has become with the concept of a student “stopping out” or taking a year off. The Gap Year Association defines a gap year as, “A semester or year of experiential learning, typically after high school and prior to career or post-secondary education, in order to deepen one’s practical, professional, and personal awareness.” The data and benefits for students taking a gap year are proven and clearly researched for those new to the concept. I agree that students have much to gain from this time away from their studies: personal maturity, experiences that will enhance their classroom learning and career development, global learning, and extending their network beyond their academic environment. No question, this is all great for students’ self esteem, self confidence, and self efficacy.
But we need to be careful in mistaking a gap year for what is really a student making a decision to not enroll in college for reasons that we as counselors can help them resolve. I’d urge us all to be very thoughtful about how we present “time away” from their studies. Let’s pull back the curtain, and take a closer look at gap years, and how to help student decide and plan for those opportunities.
Gap years still keep an educational plan in mind. They take careful planning, require financial resources, different information centers for programs, and careful guidance from mentors that have a strong understanding about how these experiences will shape the individual student. It is a process; it is definitely not something that should be planned in the spring of senior year. For those who want to add new tools to their toolkit, it is worth it to take the time to study the plans that the Gap Year Association lays out on their site. I would look to answer these two questions:
- What needs to be considered in the decision to take a gap year?
- How do you support the student before, during, and after their gap year?
Too often students and families from systemically underserved populations do not have the “college knowledge” to ask the right questions or advocate for themselves on the right path forward. Students rely on trusted sources, like their mentors, to learn about all their options. We also know that for these same students two things can happen. Either they never start college or they can “stop out” of their college, and it is very difficult for them to jump back into their studies for a variety of reasons: costs, work, family, and finding the time for school to fit their new lifestyles. Those in education have traditionally called this “summer melt” for students who never matriculate, but this year it may be exacerbated into what some are referring to as “COVID melt”. To mitigate “COVID melt,” counseling/advising teams can implement the following strategies:
- stay connected with students who are in danger of not enrolling in college;
- use early alert systems to track summer melt activities and events with students throughout the summer;
- establish an organized and sharable tracking system for program advisors, using a platform like myOptions Encourage (launching in September 2020); and
- build a relationship and stay in close contact with one person in the college admissions office and student services office.
We need to take back the narrative and keep our community aware and educated about “COVID melt” in order to best serve students, especially those in high needs situations. This important distinction between “gap years” and “COVID Melt” will help us track student decisions and build in better early alert systems to intervene and ensure students are educated decision makers, and that they go to college. All our teams’ tireless dedication of hours, days, and years to ensure that each student is successful in life depends on our ability to help students gather the right information to make life choices like these.