Over the past few weeks, I have spent several beautiful evenings in Houston on the front yards of my close friends’ homes celebrating their kids’ high school graduations from a safe social distance. The yards and houses are decorated in honor of the “2020 grad”, and I must admit, there are some very clever, or dare I say, very proud parents. Yard signs bear everything about these rising college students…honor society, choir, football, soccer, cheer, music, band, cum laude, summa cum laude, and magna cum laude. With social distancing in mind, friends and families are forced to change how they share in this “life milestone” as they drive by to honk, wave, and smile. However, there is one thing that this pandemic has not stolen from our lives, and that is our ability to show all our love for these young adults that are so full of joy, passion, and a drive to jump into “the world” after high school.

So, as I sat with friends and their grads, and had some casual conversation with them about their plans for college and whether they were all set, I could see the panic and anxiety consume their faces around their big smiles despite our celebration. And, in some cases, a few tears welled up in their eyes. Our friends at Mawi Learning recently surveyed a group of college-bound students to ask how they were feeling in the midst of the pandemic and most shared they are anxious and worried about their futures. This is just one sample of students, but it is a harsh reminder to me about how much support and help students need in their transition into college or career after high school graduation. And, as any great college counselor would do, I lined up a handful of Zoom calls over the next few weeks to help the student and families “plan for the plan.” The inspiration for this month’s college counseling article comes by way of those students and families.

In the work to serve students and ensure that they are successful in college or career, it takes a ton of planning and dedication from passionate educators, and these educators I personally believe are servant leaders. If you step back and calculate all the hours of blood, sweat, and tears to help students walk across the high school graduation stage, it is eye opening. It can be argued that the same amount of time and resources should be dedicated to support those same students after graduation, and into college. This strategy, or what some would consider the true last leg of student support in their journey to and through college is affectionately called, “Persistence”.

Persistence falls under the larger umbrella of college counseling services; however, it is still relatively new to some teams, organizations, and schools. It can be a powerful piece in driving critical outcomes like college matriculation and college completion rates. The work of a school counselor has moved beyond just getting students admitted to college(s), they now must consider success outcomes that shed light on how well programs are serving students through the optics of college completion rates for individual students.

There are amazing models of Persistence efforts across the nation and many best practices that can serve as a springboard for programs that seek to add this to their services. Believe it or not, these models are not always built on large budgets. One Persistence program launches their efforts with a “Start Strong, Stay Strong” campaign message to students and families. There are four other areas that underpin the work of “staying strong” and they are:

  1. have a passion, purpose, and plan;
  2. know who you are;
  3. network and navigate; and
  4. be financially fit.

Mentors know that team always beats individual, and that students have been graced with key teachers, counselors, coaches, mentors, family, and others along the way to help them during their climb to college and career. It’s so important to continue to coach students to surround themselves with these same mentors in life after high school. Most important to that plan is for mentors to ask students “who has your back?” Most excellent Persistence program models will include end-of-year kick off events that introduce students to their Persistence coaches, host workshops to finalize all necessary documents prior to first day of classes, Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) sign off drives (to include mentors), parent and family workshops to guide them through all the emails and university websites, and a simple communication plan to stay connected with students over the summer months. In the current environment, many of these may need to be done through creative measures: online meetings via your favorite meeting platform, curbside counseling at a safe distance, or through phone calls.

Persistence programs can include other key components that may require some budget dollars like: designing and maintaining an alumni database, new human resources (most likely grant funded), current team time, communication resources/ tools, and administrative reporting tools. All of these are important for bringing services to scale in your program. It’s important to remember that all alumni Persistence programs start small, and then they scale. This allows for programs to build culture and investment from all necessary stakeholders. Now is a great time of year to launch a Persistence team for students in your area.

If you’re interested in learning more about Persistence program models, or how best to introduce and support your colleagues that have an interest in these types of initiatives, please feel free to contact me.