My Thoughts on College Access -Part 2

A few weeks ago, I shared my thoughts on the alarming college access trend of advising based on data and not students. I believe that the relentless push for 100%, regardless of students’ personal interests, is detrimental to the field of college access and what we as educators hope to accomplish.

When you think about it, however, access is just the beginning. We all know that getting in to college is not the same as getting through college and today’s education buzzwords are reflecting that sentiment: We now talk about college persistence and college success. Colleges around the country are starting to use advanced data tracking systems to identify early-risk students and college completion rates, especially for underrepresented minorities.

But if college access (helping students get in) is the responsibility of K-12 education and college persistence (helping students stay and graduate) is the responsibility of higher education, who is ultimately responsible for college matriculation (helping students show up on day one)?

Let me be clear: There are many highly successful college access organizations, school districts, and individuals who are dramatically changing the previously inaccessible world of higher education for their students. Like everyone else, however, these organizations have limited capacities. They may not have existing resources to aid in college matriculation or they may lack the expertise to move beyond working with four-year institutions. BridgeYear specializes in collaborating with these organizations to offer targeted matriculation resources to their community college student population.

The issue is this: When it comes down to it, college matriculation takes place when students are technically… no longer, students. They are high school graduates, therefore they have exited the K-12 system. At the same time, they are not college students yet. They are in limbo. And let’s not forget, college matriculation takes place in the summer.

Ahhh, summer. If I think back to my summer after high school, I honestly don’t remember doing very much for college. I may have filled out a survey about my roommate preferences, and I think I read a book for orientation. But for the most part, I wasn’t too busy – and I didn’t need to be! I was told I would meet my advisor and register for classes after I got to campus… All I had to do was show up.

However, for most students going to community college, their summer experience could not be more different. That’s because even before they are enrolled, a community college student must:

    1. Pay for and take a placement exam if they are not considered college ready from their SAT scores (this applies to most of the students we’ve worked with). There is a fee associated with this exam, and at some exam sites, a student cannot pay in cash. Many of our students do not have access to a credit or debit card.
    2. Attend a general advising session. There are prerequisites for this session that often take weeks to accomplish. Unfortunately, last week, when a lot of our students had finally managed to complete the prerequisites, most of the spots for these sessions had filled up at their campuses for the following week. With less than a month until classes begin, our students are currently “idle,” unable to register for classes due to a bottleneck in the enrollment process. Meanwhile, classes are getting filled up.
    3. Select, register for, and pay for classes.

I know that community colleges are different from four-year private colleges. In order to be open-access institutions, community colleges need systems and processes to move through a large number of students. And yes, they don’t have the luxury of being as flexible as other higher education institutions. Unfortunately, however, sometimes these processes may result in students falling through that large gap that exists between high school and college. That’s why, this summer, BridgeYear advisors have done everything they can to proactively circumvent the bottlenecks in the system and to advise students to find creative solutions to their obstacles. The fact remains, however, that there are many other students who are in need of a larger scale solution. BridgeYear’s next steps are to compile our summer experiences to collaborate with local community colleges to find innovative ways of reaching all of their incoming students in the future. It’s time we move beyond access and towards a more holistic and collaborative view of what it means to set a student up for post-secondary success. Let’s start with making sure all our students are able to show up for Day One.

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