Talking the College-Going Process at NCCEP’s Annual Conference

Right from the start, this year’s National Council for Community and Education Partnerships (NCCEP) conference was noticeably different, firmly staking claim that all in attendance are traveling The Way of the Equity Warrior: The GEAR UP Code.  The Code embraces the concepts and beliefs of resiliency, empathy, connection, excellence, and hope – all vitally important to our collective work in helping students make their way through the college-going process to achieve education and lifelong success.

I had the pleasure of co-presenting with Ohio and Iowa ACAC State and Site Coordinators on effective tools and resources readily available for school counselors and college-access practitioners to take, adjust, and implement to fit their students’ needs. My fellow “equity warriors,” Carlos Bing, state director, GEAR UP/Ohio; Kelly M. Garrett, site director, GEAR UP/Ohio at Marion City Schools; and Jamie Covell, community engagement consultant, Iowa College Aid, and I were excited to present to a full room of approximately 100 student success and college access professionals, all eager to learn tips, tools, and resources to help make sense out of the college-going process for their students.

During our session, I shared information on Steps2College, a resource created in 2017 through a multi-partnership effort of ACT’s Center for Equity in Learning with ACAC, the National College Access Network (NCAN), Better Make Room, and the American University Center for Postsecondary Readiness and Success (CPRS). This free, online resource links the major senior-year college going steps: college application (ACAC), FAFSA completion (NCAN), making a decision and committing to a plan (Better Make Room), and successfully transitioning to college (CPRS) through the creation of a repository of trusted resources.

This was followed by Carlos and Kelly’s presentation on the Ohio Department of Higher Education’s “3 To Get Ready” campaign.  As the ACAC state coordinator, Carlos created the campaign – in only six weeks! – to galvanize from ground-up an college-going application process by creating awareness and then moved to implementing it with Ohio’s high schools.  The “3 To Get Ready” initiative provided a framework of additional supports for school professionals and community volunteers which they used to launch into their fall 2018 college-going awareness season.

Our NCCEP audience was particularly excited by one of Kelly’s tips that was resourceful, easy to do, and had students wanting to participate: a hot cocoa bar!  Kelly had checked with her school’s athletic boosters and discovered a trove of hot cocoa packets that were available.  Using the carrot of free hot cocoa, she was surprised how this incentive got students’ attention to participate in the school’s college application day.  A simple, super low-cost reward of free hot cocoa proved to be a big win-win with engaging her seniors and increasing the number of students to come by and fill out a college application.

Interest remained high with Jamie’s creative approaches with initiatives and programming to create, build on, and sustain a college-going awareness culture in Iowa. Jamie’s Course to College strategies have proven highly effective with Iowa high school counselors by focusing on these major themes:  community engagement; GEAR UP; Iowa college and career readiness;and local college access networks (LCANs).   From those building blocks, she created three initiatives (application campaign, FAFSA completion, decision day) and a supporting program on awareness of college preparation, application, financing, deciding, and going.  One unique aspect of Jamie’s program places emphasis on the “going” (summer transition) that addresses summer melt prevention to ensure graduated seniors actually make it to their college in the fall.

Our session time went by quickly, and we rounded it out with this ask of attendees: on September 20, complete a #WhyApply sheet and post it on their favorite social media outlets to kick-off the college application season.  This simple act makes a strong statement of encouraging high school seniors to participate in their college-application process this fall.  ACAC’s Why Apply initiative partners with thousands of high schools across the country each fall to host events supporting students through the college application process, especially first-generation college students and those from low-income families who may not otherwise apply to college. This coming school year we anticipate more than 8,000 high schools hosting application completion events between September and December.

Mark your calendar and join us on September 20 to post your #WhyApply!