Great Expectations: Encouraging Higher Education
Our nation's brightest high school students shouldn't be denied a shot at a college education simply because they lack the necessary resources and support. With the proper guidance, a dose of high expectations, and a boost of confidence, one organization is proving that a little push goes a long way.
In 1993, educator J.B. Schramm created College Summit to help low-income high school students break a generations-old pattern of failing to pursue a college education. As a high school student, Schramm watched many of his talented peers forego college simply because their aspirations were not fostered or encouraged. Years later as a teen counselor in Washington DC, he witnessed the same pattern of defeat among his intelligent and focused, yet low-income students and decided to fix this broken system.
College Summit is a fee-for-service business that produces a wealth of talent for colleges that are eager to diversify their student body. Operating in 10 regions across the nation, its efforts are focused on helping average students from low-income backgrounds—those with Bs and Cs and mediocre SAT scores—successfully apply to college. These students have great potential to succeed, but unlike similar students from middle-class backgrounds, they ordinarily don't even try applying to college.
To reverse this trend, students are nominated by their high schools to enroll in College Summit’s four-day intensive college-application workshop, where each participant completes college applications.
The writing curriculum coaches students on how to emphasize their unique experiences, giving concrete examples of their ability to succeed in the face of adversity. Ironically, the burdens that distract students from academic life can be touchstones for character and ingenuity that set them apart from more traditional college applicants.
Many high school students from lower-income homes are at a disadvantage competing with children who have greater access to counselors, paid coaches and, most significantly, parents who attended college and are familiar with the college application process, Schramm said. He noted that "D" students from well-off families attend college at the same rate as "A" students from poor districts.
According to Schramm the problem is not that students lack ambition, money, or access to decent schools, it’s that students lack guidance to help them navigate the maze between high school and college—an experience that requires a great deal of self-confidence.
To maintain morale, College Summit helps 20 percent of a school’s rising senior class complete their applications in a focused atmosphere with plenty of peer support. During the workshop, students participate in rap sessions where they identify their personal challenges, and develop working strategies. They also meet one-on-one with professional college counselors to select colleges that suit their needs, develop concrete goals, and learn the fundamentals of financial aid.
Since 1993, College Summit has served more than 35,000 high school students. Seventy-nine percent of their trained influential students, or Peer Leaders, have enrolled in college, with 80 percent of these students completing their education—a remarkable rate for almost any group of students but especially those who weren't even expected to enroll.
After graduating from college, College Summit's students often return to their hometowns, investing their skills and expertise in the communities that need it most. They use connections formed at the College Summit workshop to build a network of mentors and peers that fosters success in the business world.
This network also extends to the participating schools and school districts who pay fees to College Summit in exchange for boosting their number of college-oriented seniors and for giving teachers an opportunity to earn professional-education credit while learning better coaching skills.
College Summit is making strides toward narrowing the gap during the transition from high school to college. This work is helping hundreds of thousands of young adults strengthen their families and enrich their communities, setting in motion a cycle of support that will allow all high school students to seek out a higher education and let their talent shine.
Reported by Mary Marks
What do you think?
If our country is truly committed to improving its economic status, why isn’t there a College Summit program in place in low-income high schools across the nation? How can we compete in the global market without investing in higher education?Post your comments below: