Sunday, December 5, 2010

Increasing College Access: Next Steps

With one semester of Project Coach under our belts as Red Shirts, it is time to begin thinking about second-semester pursuits. After reading Carol Miller Lieber’s report, Increasing College Access through School-Based Models of Postsecondary Preparation, Planning and Support, I am excitedly toying with a few ideas for how Project Coach can strengthen its college access support. At the beginning of next semester, I will write to update as to which mini-project I wish to pursue. Comments, suggestions, and initial pledges welcome!

1. Develop a scholarship fund for college-bound Blue-Shirt seniors. Lieber cites that Federal Pell grants are capped at $5,000 per student per year and colleges. Students must navigate a complicated system of scholarships and loans in order to make up the difference in tuition costs. First-generation college students need extra support in reaching their college goals, and oftentimes access to additional funds becomes a decisive factor for college enrollment. Project Coach could help alleviate financial obstacles by awarding scholarships for Blue Shirts who have met a set of criteria (participation, essay, involvement with community projects, etc.)

2. Make a postsecondary plan an exit requirement for every graduating Blue Shirt. Liber writes a postsecondary plan “is the most direct route to ensuring that all students have access to the services and support they need.” A postsecondary plan would require Blue Shirts to develop a portfolio throughout the year of college-application materials, including a set number of applications, a completed FAFSA, letters of recommendation, essay, and a back-up plan. Red-Shirts could help Blue Shirts set goals for each of these pieces and help connect the Blue Shirt with additional resources, such as appointments with admissions counselors.

3. Encourage participation in an experiential summer program. Summer programs can be especially powerful in opening the eyes of youth to experiences beyond their current point of reference. From travel-based to outdoor themed programs, youth are able to discover new passions, develop confidence and form friendships beyond their community. Additionally, Lieber writes that “research studies about first-generation college-goers indicate that the students who felt better prepared to take on the demands of college work and adjust to a different way of living were the same students who had more firsthand experiences on college campuses.” Through partnerships with specific programs/colleges, or through targeted fundraising, Project Coach could seek to place interested Blue Shirts in residential summer experiences.

4. Develop grade-specific college readiness curriculum. Project Coach currently assists juniors and seniors with college preparation through SAT tutoring, partnerships with Academic Coaches at partnering high schools, and informal Red Shirt guidance. However, Lieber suggests targeting all grades, 9-12, with specific and measurable college-prep benchmarks. For example, in Lieber’s sample curriculum, freshman students would visit their first college campus and draft an initial resume. Sophomores complete a job application, interview current college students, and begin job shadowing. This curriculum could tie directly to the postsecondary plan/portfolio.

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