2020 has been a year filled with uncertainty and struggles. And for our high school students, the path for pursuing a college degree or other higher education credential is going to look and feel different this year because of COVID-19 and the necessary social distancing changes. COVID-19 is exacerbating the barriers that often prevent learners in systemically underserved populations from navigating the college-going path.
Through this uncertainty, we must focus on providing a sense of normalcy for our students and celebrating them through each milestone of their senior years. Our students – especially Black, Native American, Latinx, and first-generation students – need to understand that planning for the future does not stop because of an unclear path forward. While ACAC events have traditionally taken place within school buildings during the school hours, our state campaign coordinators and host site coordinators are stepping up to the challenge to find creative ways to host college application events. We have already seen virtual panels with college students on Facebook Live, video tutorials walking through college applications, and school districts reorganizing a senior seminar class to build in lesson plans focused on the college application process. The creativity and commitment of this network never ceases to amaze me. Together, we can keep the Class of 2021 on track to apply to college.
We had a strong, enthusiastic welcome to the college application season as we celebrated ACAC’s fourth annual #WhyApply Day on September 18. From Facebook to Twitter, Instagram and TikTok, we saw a full range of inspiring photos and videos. The creativity and excitement of the day was strong and a reminder as to why each of us has committed our careers to helping students navigate the college-going process. We also hosted a #WhyApply Twitter chat on Sept. 10 with Common App, Reach Higher, myOptions and the American School Counseling Association to discuss how best to support students through the college application process during a pandemic. Overall, the #WhyApply social media campaign reached more than 4,200 users across multiple social media channels. Thank you to everyone who participated in the Twitter chat and celebration to share with the Class of 2021 why they should apply to college.
Lastly, I want to take a moment to thank Joni Petschauer, ACAC’s national trainer and consultant, for her years of service and commitment to ACAC. Many of you met Joni over the years as she traveled across the country introducing the national campaign and helping state coordinators build a strong foundation in their early years. Joni’s talents helped nurture ACAC to bring us to where we are today. Her final day with ACAC was September 30 and her daily presence will be truly missed.
Remember, it’s never too late to share your #WhyApply to help inspire our students through the college application process. Let’s keep the momentum going and show young adults we’re here to support them every step of the way.
Thank you for taking this journey with me. I can’t wait to see what the next decade holds for ACAC!
Lisa King, director
State Spotlight: Maryland
Maryland College Application Campaign expands to include “others traditionally underrepresented in higher education.”
Authored by: Joni Petschauer, national trainer, American College Application Campaign
When Dr. Michelle Daley accepted the role of state coordinator for the Maryland College Application Campaign (MCAC) in 2016, she remembers sitting in her office and reading the focus of the American College Application Campaign: to support first-generation college-going students and students from low-income families as well as others who are underrepresented in higher education. She recalls that her special education background kicked in. She closed her office door and wrestled with the question, “Who are the ‘others’ underrepresented in higher education?” She vowed to figure this out before she left work that day. This led to the MCAC’s thoughtful and inclusive support of students who were not always reached through traditional activities and events.
Dr. Daley began to explore the resources and supports associated within the Maryland State Department of Education. Recognizing that multiple offices housed advocates for special youth groups, she started asking questions. Specifically, she spoke with individuals who performed outreach and support for unaccompanied homeless youth, DACAmented/unDACAmented youth, juvenile services, students with disabilities, youth in foster care, and homeschooled students. She learned that a vast and existing communication effort was available to reach those “others underrepresented in higher education,” and she invited each state employee advocate to be a part of MCAC’s Statewide Steering Committee. Her idea was to wed the state government resources and support to MCAC so that families, care providers, and students would see a connection.
In her own words, Dr. Daley believes she was “a firestarter. We all know what students need, and we need to provide the spark that allows them to explode and follow their passions.” The fire sparked because the steering committee members are all in this work for the same reason: supporting students’ futures. She also works by a “rule” that to reach kids, you have to reach them through their phones. This was the opportunity for Dr. Daley to implement MCAC social media sites to provide students a platform for accessing supports required for them and others in need.
As each new group advocate was brought on to the MCAC’s Steering Committee, she explained that coordinating timely and accurate resources and communication was a primary reason for participating. Dr. Daley believes that their willing participation was critical to a campaign that requires the same in responding to student and family questions.
Dr. Daley is realistic about the importance of breaking down barriers when serving multiple populations. While difficult at times, she believes that networking is the key to making it work. Connecting with the school systems, state agencies, organizations, and individuals is the way to build trust and enthusiasm. Thus, she views partnerships as crucial to MCAC’s success – two-year/four-year schools, a homeless shelter, a college bound foundation, a representative from a charter school – they all need time together to make good things happen. She’s welcomed them all to the table and will continue to do so.
All of this work has paid off. Miracle Holmes called her participation in Woodlawn High School’s MCAC activities “life-saving.” Miracle was not unlike many of her classmates, having “no clue or idea where to start,” but MCAC helped her navigate the steps to apply to college. She “needed to have a clearly spelled out plan to keep on track,” and she got that from MCAC. From exploring her college choices to submitting her applications for college and financial aid, the campaign served as a valuable guide for Miracle and her parents. She is confident that “if it had not been for the various resources offered by the Maryland College Application Campaign, … [she] would not have had the chance to attend [her] college of choice.” But she did have those resources, and, this fall, she’s a proud Hood College student.
With successes like these Dr. Daley has goals for the future of MCAC, including 100 percent participation among Maryland high schools. Her message to schools is that this is not extra work but instead is a way to enhance the work they already do. Then, she plans to build programming for adult students while also engaging students as early as elementary and middle school. And through it all, she seeks to engage more families.
Given Dr. Daley’s energy, enthusiasm, and focus, it is not hard to imagine that Maryland will succeed in these goals. If you have questions about how the Maryland College Application Campaign expanded its events to include unaccompanied homeless youth and foster care youth, please email Dr. Michelle Daley at [email protected].
Partner Spotlight: NCAN
Sharpen Your Skills With NCAN’s New E-Learning System
Author: MorraLee Keller, director of technical assistance, National College Attainment Network
Remote learning isn’t just for students this year! Last month, the National College Attainment Network (NCAN) unveiled their new-and-improved e-learning system for educators. Fundamentals for College Access & Success Providers helps practitioners stay informed about the changing landscape of college attainment for students pursuing postsecondary pathways. The new system will present foundational information for educators in a fresh delivery method.
These online courses provide a toolkit of concrete strategies and resources for counselors and advisors to use when guiding students through one of the most important decisions of their lives. Courses are segmented by topic, with options ranging from admissions and financial aid advising to working with undocumented students and youth experiencing homelessness.
While content in the majority of these courses is targeted at new college access and success professionals, courses dedicated to building cultural competency are available in a companion model. One is designed for advisers, and the other is designed for supervisors. These courses are filled with activities that can be completed with the supervisor and advisers to strengthen their skills.
Regardless of topic or audience, courses are delivered in convenient 30- to 90-minute segments. They are self-paced and asynchronous. They’ll be available year-round, on demand, to anyone with an Internet connection. And since they’re designed to incorporate best practices for online learner engagement, educators will want to take as many courses as they can.
Participants register and select the courses they wish to complete: either individual or badge courses. The content will be delivered via tutorial videos that can be stopped, rewound, and started as often as needed in order to absorb the content. End of course quizzes can be taken up to three times. Participants successfully complete the course when they score 65 percent or higher on the quiz.
Upon successful completion of a course, learners will be able to download and print a certificate of completion for that course. Badge courses containing multiple sections are also available. Learners will have to complete multiple courses to earn a badge certificate. They will be able to download and print a certificate of completion for the badge courses containing the names of all the individual courses they completed. Completing the 21 courses required for the “NCAN Certified Advisor Badge” should lead to a highly skilled college access and success adviser.
NCAN membership makes e-learning affordable for school districts. Member districts can enroll up to 100 educators in this virtual training resource at no additional cost through Summer 2021.
If you have any questions regarding e-learning, please feel free to reach out to MorraLee Keller, director of technical assistance, at [email protected]. We wish you well as you begin another academic year.
Say hello to myOptions Encourage™!
Author: Bryan Contreras, Vice President, K12 & Education Partnerships, myOptions®
Early in my college counseling career, I lived in multiple databases, dazed by columns and rows, trying to figure out how to stitch together data, student information, tracking transcript follow up, and checking off completed items…all in the name of completing college applications. I grew frustrated and fatigued as I witnessed my students falling through the cracks after all the incredible hard work my team invested in each student and family. I knew that a better system would be required if our students were going to complete their degrees.
The team that I had assembled worked extremely hard; however, the pace to keep up with all our students, especially their set of unique needs, really forced us to innovate our data ecosystem, out of both necessity and opportunity. We needed to accelerate our efforts through technology if we were to hit our ambitious goal of closing the achievement gap. So, we embarked on a mission to find existing data tools, secure data partnerships, and building new tools. At the end of the process, we had designed a data-driven approach to college and career counseling by using seven different databases sprinkling in some sharable platforms. We were ecstatic.
Our belief was that students, families, mentors, and counselors needed to be empowered with the same data and information traditionally found in the teacher’s gradebook or counselor’s files for success to be achieved in the college planning process. In a recent article published in The 74, Jon Deane (CEO, GreatSchools) writes about parent's needs for greater transparency and a holistic view of their child's growth. This is the same concept that validated our strategy for the first-generation college students we served. We committed to data transparency and sharing it in real time with families. We knew it would be lots of hard work and require an investment in team time, but in the end, this would keep the families informed and make our work easier and more efficient. We took the leap and dove into the work.
We learned a lot, like the fact that working in seven different “systems” while trying to maintain meaningful connections with students, parents, and college counselors soon became another exhausting experience. And, it was there, at the crossroads of necessity and opportunity, where grit, determination, and technology intersect. I was determined to help design technology tools to meet student, parent, and mentor’s needs in the college planning process. The technology would need to evolve once again.
I am honored to be part of the myOptions team that brings together all these learnings and data-driven practices. Our mission to ensure that all students have equal access to the core resources to plan for college and career, and that their educators and mentors do as well, is brought to life in myOptions and myOptions Encourage.
Our brand-new educator platform, myOptions Encourage, launched a few short weeks ago. With this free educator platform, schools do not have to worry about finding budget dollars to add a “best in class” college and career planning tool to their suite of resources.
So, what did we build? Here is what we wanted to solve for:
- Make it accessible and easy for students to join, and keep it free.
- Provide great tools, checklists, and links to scholarship opportunities.
- Connect students to colleges and universities.
- Allow students to invite parents, mentors, and counselors to connect with them.
- Request critical documents like transcripts and recommendation letters.
Through this new technology platform, we give all mentors the ability to connect with students, collaborate with them in the college planning process, collaborate and monitor their progress, and gather critical reports to help prioritize your students and their needs. At Encourages’ core we have also included college application management tools, like the ability to send documents electronically to colleges and universities on behalf of students. We believe this will offset the issue of students not completing their applications or falling off of their mentors’ radar. It will also help families become active in their child’s college planning process.
Finally, our alliance and partnership with the American College Application Campaign, creates a unified front to offset some of the key challenges we encounter as mentors and leaders of college planning programs. With the kickoff of the 2020 ACAC events this fall, we see a huge opportunity for counselors, mentors, program leaders, and managers to accelerate their work through the unification of ACAC resources and myOptions Encourage. It will especially help in the areas of tracking, reporting, staying connected, and evaluation, as well as making sure students are educated decision makers. Ultimately, our final exam as educators is the percent of our former students that complete a college degree.
myOptions Encourage can help! Create your educator profile today and get started.
Students can register at https://students.myoptions.org/e-registration/acac
On Tuesday, September 22, Bryan Contreras led the webinar “Utilizing myOptions Encourage to Support ACAC Implementation” hosted by ACAC, myOptions and the National College Attainment Network. Watch the recording here.