Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Helping negotiate the college system

Indianapolis Metropolitan High School, a charter school, has the right idea.

Just because students graduate from high school doesn't mean the high school is finished and the kids don't need anymore help. Guidance counselors at Metropolitan High School help former students navigate their way through the college system.

Sometimes kids need someone to answer the questions like, "Where do I go to get a textbook?" Sometimes they need someone to help them figure out why their financial aid went away and is no longer credited to their account.

We need more counselors like the ones at Metropolitan High School--people who will help streamline the process and create a communication line from the student to the school (whether it be community college, university, or trade school) and vice-versa. We need people who can answer what may seem like "simple" questions for those of us who have already been through college...but can be quite intimidating for a first-generation college student who feels like he/she is the only one who doesn't know what they're doing.

If this method doesn't work High-Tech High has another idea. "Almost every adult at the school serves as an adviser to twelve to fifteen students, meetinga t least weekly with the group and keeping each advisee for all four years."

Poor students and students of color have traditionally attended college at a much lower rate than White or Asian students...and many of their parents have not attended college either. So, for us to expect them to be successful at navigating the college process on their own--figuring out which student loans offer the better rate, what department to go to when needing extra financial assistance, how to pay your bills, and how to budget the student loan money--is a lot to ask. The ones who manage it, my hat goes off to them; it is a complicated process.

The students need a point person...someone they can trust to help them understand the process and answer their questions. Many of us had parents who helped us understand (or handled the process all-together). Many others don't have that.

I've often said we need a College Liaison in every low-income community just like we have Community Prosecutors. In addition to making it known that we prosecute community crimes, we need to be willing to offer long-term alternatives in a very visible way. We need someone who is committed to the community and willing to be that point person. And, in my opinion, just like the Community Prosecutor, it needs to be federally funded.

But, since that isn't on any drawing board that I know of, if we could re-tool public high school counselor's job descriptions and, first of all, turn them back into counselors (instead of test administrators), then equip them and charge them with being available for former students, we could provide a door of opportunity that some students don't realize can be available to them.

Anyone got connections to help move that dream forward?
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