Getting in to college is hard! Graduating is often even harder. There are many, many barriers that prevent our children from reaching that elusive goal – obtaining their college degree. Five of these barriers are, financial, academics, motivation, access, and continuing support.
Especially for first generation and low income students, what may seem like a mere inconvenience to an adult, can be the catalyst to dropping out of college. College Success Arizona is committed to helping students overcome these and other barriers in their quest for higher knowledge.
Let’s begin with what most feel is the biggest burden.
Financial ― Higher education can feel as foreign as spending summers in the south of France, or having a Lamborghini in the garage. When something, such as receiving a bachelor’s degree, seems so far out of reach, we don’t plan for it. We see it as some distant, probably unobtainable dream.
The problem: Most families cannot afford to pay for a higher education out of their pockets, and students don’t want to cause additional financial strain on their already cash-strapped parents. This leads to discouragement and a feeling by many students that a college degree is only attainable by more affluent students.
College Success solution: Students benefit from a strong message that college is accessible to everyone. The first step in obtaining financial assistance is sitting down and filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. Filling out this form is basically mandatory and is the first step in determining what type of scholarships, grants, and student loans students can receive from their colleges, the federal government and private resources. Go here for additional resources, including a link to College Depot, a free service that helps kids learn about available college resources.
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Academics ― With more and more budget cuts occurring in K-12 and in higher education, Arizona students are sometimes finding themselves unable to compete with their peers across the United States, and around the world. Organization like Expect More Arizona are fighting for education excellence for all Arizonans.
The problem: Roughly 54 percent of Arizona high school students enter college needing some form of remedial coursework before they even take their initial college level classes. These courses place additional burdens on students, both financially and in the increased time it takes them to complete their college degree.
College Success solution: Attending a university is different than going to high school. It’s rigorous, requires good time management skills, and prior preparation is crucial. We must prepare our students appropriately so that they are ready for the rigors of college life and don’t face severe culture and academic shock.
Strong academic reinforcement from early childhood is important, but it may be difficult for today’s struggling families, but reading is a must. Having students spend a part of their summer breaks reading, or even taking an extra class is helpful. Encouraging high school students to take advance placement, or college classes (research the ACE program), will give them an advantage when they step onto that college campus. Ensuring that students have completed the required coursework for entrance into a community college or university is mandatory. To find specific academic requirements for any of Arizona’s community colleges or universities, a great resource is http://collegedata.com.
Motivation ― In households where a college degree is the norm, conversations often begin with, “when you go to college,” or “when I was in college.” These are not conversations you’ll hear in homes where a college degree is not expected.
The problem: When the expectation of a college education isn’t present, the motivation to attend college is harder to find.
College Success solution: Parents, teachers, and other influencers must have discuss obtaining a college degree as the most viable option. The motivation leading to a great career and helping your family and friends is sometimes financial.
According to the U.S. News and World Report, for workers age 25 to 32, the median annual earnings for full-time working college-degree holders are $17,500 more than for those with only a high school diploma. According to the U.S. Government Info Web site, “… a high school graduate can expect, on average, to earn $1.2 million; those with a bachelor’s degree $2.1 million; and people with a master’s degree $2.5 million.” Of course, employment is also better for those with degrees. At of the end of 2011, workers with only a high-school education were unemployed at a rate of 9.4% while those with a bachelor’s degree had an unemployment rate of 4.9% (4.1% as of July 2012).
Access ― You have the motivation and you’ve gotten good grades, but do you know what needs to be done to achieve your dreams of going to college? Do you know what entrance exams you have to take, what courses are required to be accepted, and what forms to fill out and when?
The problem: You can’t just show up at the door of your state university with your high school diploma in hand and start your college career. There are many steps that need to be taken to go from interested applicant to accepted college student.
College Success solution: Students should talk to their guidance counselors, join college clubs at their schools, attend special college information events and fairs, such as College Goal Sunday, tour local colleges and speak to admissions counselors, review the information on the college’s website, and research college access websites such as College Success Arizona.
A proven strategy is to get involved with a college access and preparation program, such as “Be a Leader Foundation” or “Aguila Youth Leadership Institute.” A list of state-wide college access partners can be found on the Arizona College Access Network website.
Above all, ask questions. Your high school counselor is a great place to start.
Continued Support ― Opening that acceptance letter and stepping on to campus are huge accomplishments. But that is not the end of the journey. It’s just the beginning.
The problem: Life gets in the way and things will, at some point, get off track. Students need a personal resource – a super connector – to help decode the college success puzzle. How will you know what road to take, or continue to be motivated when things get difficult? And, they will get difficult. How do you get over major hurdles like changing majors, financial aid snafus, or wanting to go home after you bomb your first exam?
College Success solution: These are common problems that can often derail an already fragile student, who’s away from home for the first time. Getting help at the very first sign of trouble, or having someone to guide, support, motivate and point you to the correct resources is critical. Students must learn to be interdependent and utilize program and resources available on campus.
Programs such as College Success Arizona provide an intensive one on one mentoring and success program by having full time advisers devoted to the success of their students. They offer expert guidance and a focal point to vent their problems, while providing a real person to help navigate life’s challenges. Advisers know the “ins and outs” of campuses throughout our state and direct their students to the right office or resource for the various issues they will encounter. The support often makes the in a successful college career, a degree in hand, and ready to enter the workforce. Go to the College Success Arizona’s website to view some personal stories about how some of our scholars overcame barriers and received continued support throughout their college careers.
Rich Nickel is President and CEO of College Success Arizona.