The National Student Clearinghouse released their first look at Fall 2021 enrollment data and direct high school to college undergraduate enrollment continues to decline, resulting in a 12.3% percent decrease since fall 2019. Community colleges continue to be hit the hardest with a 14.1% total enrollment decline since fall 2019.
While the newest data is a continued reminder of why our work to assist students through the college application process is critical, it is also a reminder of how important it is to celebrate when things go right.
We were thrilled to receive support from President Biden, and the U.S. Senate, each declaring November as National College Application Month.
On Oct. 29, 2021, President Biden signed the proclamation, which can be viewed here.
On Nov. 16, 2021, Sens. Chris Coons (D-Del.), Tim Scott (R-S.C.), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) cosponsored the resolution in the Senate, which can be viewed here.
Please join us in thanking President Biden and the Senate for their resolutions and leadership.
We also want to take the opportunity to thank Common App, Reach Higher and the National Association for College Admissions Counseling for their collaboration during National College Application Month and joining ACAC in the call to action for all of us to continue and expand on our efforts to increase the number of first-generation college students and students from low-income families pursuing a college degree or other higher education credential.
In addition to the declaration of National College Application Month, we know that state campaigns run from September through December. And, we know that students across the country begin applying before the start of the school year and continue to do so through the spring. In other words, the official declaration does not mean the college application season is over. We are supporting and celebrating students applying to college throughout the year.
Lisa King, director
Postsecondary Planning and Pandemic Survey
The San Diego State University Center for Equity and Postsecondary Attainment (CEPA) and ACAC have designed a Postsecondary Planning and Pandemic Survey for both students and parents as part of a grant-funded initiative assessing local and national COVID-19 trends and its implications on student college enrollment, being termed as COVID-melt.
The purpose of the survey for current 12th grade students and a companion survey for parents/guardians is to
- assess the degree to which the pandemic is impacting students’ postsecondary plans ranging from career/college exposure, college/financial aid applications, and postsecondary decisions; and
- translate data into practical applications for school counselors and programs to adapt college/career advising in a post-COVID environment.
The student and parent surveys will be administered October 15 – December 15, 2021. We are still seeking school districts or high schools willing to administer the student and/or parent surveys. Please complete this form if interested and a member of the grant team will follow up.
#IApplied: Peer-to-peer advice on continuing education beyond high school
Compiled by: Adrienne Enriquez, ACAC national trainer and communications specialist
November was National College Application Month, a month when many high school seniors were busy applying to college. We spoke with current college students and recent college graduates about their thoughts and best advice for the many students who submitted college applications this fall.
We wondered what they would say to themselves if they could travel back in time to their senior year of high school. At the top of the list were reminders that college is for everyone who wants to attend and that there is help available when needed. They also wanted to remind themselves to take chances and to be open to new ideas.
“If I could go back in time and talk to my 12th grade self, I would remind myself that I am worthy of obtaining a college degree. I, like many students from the inner city of Chicago, struggled with navigating the college process. I assumed that my identities of being a Latinx migrant from Mexico whose low-income family had never gone to college would not allow me to get admitted into college nor succeed within these institutions. College was always seen as unobtainable because it was so expensive. My 12th grade self did not understand how much financial assistance there is for students from low-income families. But looking back now I would remind myself that I would be able to succeed regardless of the lack of resources. I am worthy of an education and 12th grade Laura did not see that. I hope you all see that you too are worthy of an amazing education.”
- Laura Edith Villagomez, Class of 2020, University of Michigan – Ann Arbor
“I'd tell myself to ask for help when I needed it. Asking for help is something I've always been bad at, but it would've made the college process much less overwhelming.”
- Beth Groves, class of 2018, Greenville University (Illinois)
“Take the risk or lose the chance.
You will never know all that you can and will achieve if you never take that first step.”
- Zenani Johnson, Class of 2020, University of West Florida
“Keep an open mind. Take a variety of courses and pursue the subjects you find interesting. Be sure to consider community college as it is a great option!”
- Anonymous, Class of 2020, San Joaquin Delta College & University of California at Berkeley
“I wish I would have known that I didn’t have to know what I wanted to do when I entered college. Because I think the misconception a lot of us think is we have to know what we want to study right when we go to college. So a lot of us take a step back and think I’m not really ready to make that decision for the rest of my life. Starting college and just getting your foot in the door – you can do that without knowing what you want to graduate in or what you want to do for the rest of your life.”
- Claudia Davila, Class of 2013, Portland State University (Oregon)
“Go out there more! Let people get to know you! Take chances! While your future college friends are your best friends, you would get more out of the experience if you go out more and participate in more social events to know more people. I'm not saying party all the time, but invite friends to dinner, go to school events, reach out to classmates more.”
- Erick Bernal, Class of 2021, Washington University in St Louis (Missouri)
Are you looking for more advice? Check out this video from our ACAC state partner, Oregon Goes To College.
By: Jamie Covell, ACAC state coordinator for Iowa, Iowa College Student Aid Commission
We asked Jamie to reflect on the challenges overcome, lessons learned, and successes achieved during the past year. Here is what she told us.
What a year (or two) it has been. From frantically switching everything to “virtual” to adapting to a “hybrid life,” it has been a very interesting couple of years for all of us! As we continue to navigate through the pandemic in Iowa, we have improvised a lot to ensure our students continue to successfully pursue their postsecondary path. We have had our challenges, but we have also learned from them. And, we have had a few successes to celebrate as we enter a new year, continuing to improve our services to schools.
Iowa has participated in the American College Application Campaign since 2012, gradually growing in participation each year with 156 schools involved during the fall of 2021. These schools serve just over 20,000 students helping them work through the college-going process by navigating applications, FAFSA, financial aid offers, scholarships, testing, and ultimately, making a decision. The work our schools do is simply incredible.
However, when the pandemic forced schools and everyone to shift to virtual life we faced various challenges. For example, our schools asked, “how do we ensure students are still receiving postsecondary support when we have to focus on their more immediate needs?” This resonated with our office. Yet, as the folks who support schools behind the scenes, providing toolkits, webinars, training, and tools, we do not often find ourselves directly in front of the students.
That changed! We started offering virtual everything: application fairs, FAFSA nights, scholarship assistance, and even a decision celebration. Oh, the things we learned! For example, I not only know what an attendance report is on Zoom, but I now know how to retrieve it and use it to measure our outcomes. We learned that “Zoom fatigue” is real and to expect lower live attendance, so we record everything. (We still have yet to figure out the science behind scheduling though.) It was a year of learning and trying new things in a very forgiving space, because, at the end of the day, we were all in it together.
We had great success with putting our services directly in front of students, but it was hard! Our team was burnt out, exhausted, and kept thinking, “how much longer?” How much longer until our students are safely back in school? Until our counselors have time to deal with more than immediate needs? Until our state figures out the best approach to public health and safety needs? I am not sure we are there yet, but we are at least moving forward, which gives us more insight into how to provide our services to our schools.
From our virtual experiences supporting the graduating classes of 2020 and 2021, we took what worked well and attempted to make things more hybrid-friendly for the class of 2022. Because, even though students and staff are back in the buildings and there is an appearance of normalcy, there is nothing normal about this school year. We are still navigating through the pandemic and need to remain flexible to reach our students.
Starting this fall, we are still offering many of our virtual services. We have scaled back quite a bit, as our schools are back to hosting in-person events.
- A “Why Apply” panel where recent college students discussed the importance of simply applying.
- A “Back on Track” event for our senior class, which included four days of college prep sessions on topics such as pathways after high school, deciphering financial aid awards, and completing the Common App.
- We recorded every session and made the recordings available to our counselors.
- We encouraged counselors to register a classroom of students and project the session during the class. This strategy seemed to work really well!
- A virtual application fair in December, so as not to compete with in-person application fairs throughout October and November.
- FAFSA completion nights, in partnership with another statewide nonprofit.
- These include a line-by-line walk through of a FAFSA and online chat support to answer questions.
- Schools can also host in-person events and project our session on screen while they have their own volunteers available to assist families with completing their FAFSA on-site.
Our biggest wins have been preparing folks to support virtual events in-person. These are the strategies we will continue to use in the future and that we hope to improve upon in years to come. They are sought after by our schools because it is easier for them to team up with an event rather than host their own. It is easier for us, too, as we can be more efficient with time and reach the masses!
As the New Year comes with promising hopes that many of us will be safely back in our schools and offices, remember we can always adapt and use new strategies to keep everyone engaged in the work, in the services, and in the process!
The Power of Celebration
By: Nick Sproull, director of k-12 educator engagement, myOptions®
For many educators, December marks not only the end of the calendar year but also the end of the first semester - a welcomed and much-needed respite from the needs and demands of the students we serve. Much has been written about the challenges the COVID-19 pandemic has levied on students, educators, families, and communities. That is not what this article is about. Instead, this article has one very important job: to remind us of the power of celebration.
Why celebration? Simply put, celebrating boosts our well-being. According to social psychologist Fred Bryant from Loyola University Chicago, when we savor, or celebrate, our minds become consciously aware of our feelings during positive events increasing short- and long-term happiness. Celebrating, as Bryant says in his 2006 book, Savoring: A New Model of Positive Experience, “is like swishing the experience around…in your mind.” Celebrating, in turn, gives us permission to look forward to more positive experiences, making us more optimistic and hopeful for the future.
As a counselor, you rarely have two days alike. One minute you may be helping a student complete their FAFSA, the next you’re being called into a meeting with your principal, and soon thereafter you’re on the phone with the parent of a student struggling with chronic absenteeism. Remembering to pause and celebrate even the smallest victories can be hard.
UC-Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center offers some simple methods to help you build a habit of savoring and celebrating.
- Share your good feelings with others. If you have a breakthrough with a student, tell a colleague about it. Studies have shown people who share positive feelings and events with others are happier overall than those who don’t.
- Take a mental photograph. Pause for a moment to consciously consider the things you wish to remember - the excited scream of a student being admitted to a college or the relief on a student’s face upon completing their FAFSA.
- Congratulate yourself. This is not an endorsement of arrogance, but instead an acknowledgment of the importance of reflecting on the fruits of your labor.
- Shout it from the rooftops. Who doesn’t love joining the celebration of an important goal or achievement? Send an email to your administration or safely share good news through your school’s social media channel. Positive energy is contagious!
- Be grateful. Research shows saying “thank you” out loud can make us happier and affirm our positive feelings. Practicing gratitude grounds us in our work and helps us remember why we devote our lives to supporting students.
Struggling to remember something worth celebrating? Then make a plan to celebrate wins in the future. While many students have already submitted applications to college, many others may still have work to do. Find them, help them, and then celebrate with them once they’ve hit that submit button! Or consider participating in the annual College Signing Day later in the spring. This gives you and your students motivation to accomplish goals and a great cause for celebration!