Diversity in schools is important at all levels, but some students are not prepared to enter a postsecondary institution right out of high school. I know I was not. Most of what I knew about college came from my mother who would constantly remind me that "If you want to make something of your life you need a college education," and to "get good grades because that's how you get into a good college." Not bad advice, but of course there was a lot missing, such as how I was going to pay for a four-year degree program, or which institutions I should apply for.
A bigger problem is when students enroll in colleges that they feel are their only option. They have the grades to apply for a much more prestigious school, but they settle for a local postsecondary institution because they feel they can afford it. Many students, and their parents, see the "sticker price" of a more selective school and feel a sense of shock. This can lead to the student choosing a college that is more affordable over one that seems more expensive, but could actually have generous financial aid options. This should not happen, and we should explore how to combat it where we can.
Preparing For College
Part of the reason my mother did not provide much guidance during my college applications process was the fact that she didn't have a college education. This can be a crippling fact, as a lot of high schools in underserved communities do not have the resources to supply enough advisors to serve the large number of kids that are enrolled. In an opinion piece on The Atlantic, Alexandria Radford talks about a study she conducted with 900 public high school valedictorians, paying particular attention to a student she calls "Karen," a pseudonym used to protect her true identity. Even though she is at the top of her high school class and has stellar SAT scores, Karen enrolled at a local school instead of applying for a more prestigious university. When asked why she did not apply for more selective schools, Karen said there was "no point in applying" since her family felt they could not afford the annual tuition, and also "because no one told me to consider anything else."
Of the students Radford spoke to who classified as living in "lower-or-working-class backgrounds," only 50 percent of them "applied to one of the 61 private colleges rated 'most selective' by U.S News and World Report." This is in stark contrast to the 80 percent of students from "upper-middle-and-upper-class families" who ended up applying for a selective school. This disparity does not have to exist. No matter their socioeconomic background students should receive adequate college preparation so they know their options. The high school that I attended was in a fairly good neighborhood. It was not super affluent, but it was also not in the poorest of sections of San Francisco. For my graduating class we had two advisors for a couple of hundred students. That is not a very good ratio to provide a lot of one-on-one time to speak about future choices. I remember having one conversation with my advisor in which she asked me where I wanted to go to college. Because I had not really contemplated the idea, I muttered something about attending City College of San Francisco. She told me that I should look for something else, but never went on to enumerate any other options available to me. She just defaulted into talking about my grades and how a high GPA would help ensure I got into a good college.
She may have been right about a community college not being right for me, but it could have possibly helped in the short term. I went to a private Catholic four year university, but had to leave after a tumultuous two years because of lack of preparation for college life and a lack of funding to pay for it. It was not the advisor's fault that she did not have enough time to speak to me about everything I would need to help get me ready for college, including filling out forms, and to which schools I should apply. What can be done to help these underserved students when education budgets are being cut in most states?
Training College Advisors
An article written by Sophie Quinton for National Journal offers a possible solution. The piece highlights the experiences of Erica Elder, a graduate of the University of Virginia (UVA). Elder was raised in Bassett, Va, and was the first in her family to earn a college degree. She almost didn't attend UVA, but did so because of her high school advisor. He gave her options, and in her words, he also "gave me hope." The advisor that helped Elder came from the National College Advising Corps (NCAC), an organization that recruits and trains college graduates to work with underrepresented and underprivileged youth to help them apply for college. 60 percent of their workforce is comprised of first generation degree holders, minorities, or individuals from low-income households, and they are all under the age of 25. These people have recently been through the very experiences that the young men and women they are mentoring are going through, and as a result these advisors can best speak to the particular challenges these students may have to face. NCAC advisors can also provide hope as they are examples of what can happen with a little perseverance. That perseverance can pay off, as the Pew Research Mobility Project reports that low-income students who earn an undergraduate degree are four times as likely to make their way into the top fifth of income earners. Unfortunately, low-income students are 30 percent less likely to apply for college directly out of high school than peers who are from higher socioeconomic backgrounds.
NCAC has seen success in helping out low-income students. Quinton reports some interesting statistics gathered about the NCAC which showed that, during the 2010-11 school year, students who worked with an advisor from the NCAC were 25 percent more likely to apply to a college than other classmates at the same school. They were also 34 percent more likely to be accepted at the college they applied to. Students who received NCAC counseling and would be the first in their families to go to college were 53 percent more likely to be accepted to college than students at other, comparable schools who do not utilize the services of NCAC.
College Graduates Giving Back
Having recent graduates supplement high school advisors in schools that serve a high number of at-risk youth may have lasting, beneficial results, if the above data is any indication. Quinton's article talks about the fact that the national ratio of advisors to students is 470-to-1. That is a lot of people to handle, especially when advisors have numerous responsibilities. Adding qualified individuals who can help students learn their collegiate options, assist them in filling out forms and writing essays, or preparing for the SAT may mean that more low-income students attend schools they might not have otherwise thought to apply for. Students lower on the socioeconomic ladder should have the knowledge and help they need in order to understand all the options they truly have. Organizations like the NCAC may be able to help with this, adding resources to underserved communities that are needed. As the data from Quinton's article shows, it can have positive results.
About the Author:
Jamar Ramos has been writing poetry and fiction for many years, and earned his bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University. For the last three years, Mr. Ramos switched to producing blog posts for CBSSports.com and writing professionally as an independent contributor for a number of Internet sites. His creative works have been featured in The Bohemian and The San Matean. He now contributes articles for OnlineDegrees.com, OnlineColleges.com, and AlliedHealthWorld.com.