Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Moving forward...Creating a plan

I like learning new things. I like "a-ha!" moments. I like figuring out how things work.

My latest "a-ha!" moment started when one of the college students came to me explaining that in order to get back into college, he would have to pay for the entire semester without help from financial aid. I already had the feeling that was going to happen.

After the semester had started this fall, I noticed he was hanging out in Dallas an awful lot. He finally explained to me that he wasn't going to school this semester because he had failed some of his classes and his GPA had dropped below a certain level. He tried to explain to me that the school counselor had told him if he just sat out this semester, his financial aid would be reinstated in the spring. From an experience with another college student, I knew that wasn't right, but he chose not to listen when I explained that he would have to pay the school before he could continue. (Don't kid yourself if you think that our government's money is flowing freely to students! If students don't perform, financial aid does not continue paying for the classes!)

So, he sat out a semester and, sure enough, when he went to enroll for this spring, they told him in order to re-enroll, he had to pay for the entire semester himself. They explained that once he paid his expenses and proved himself by doing well in classes, his financial aid could be reinstated for the fall.

But that's not my a-ha moment.

After visiting with his counselor and finding out that he was going to have to pay for classes all by himself, he called to ask for advice and help in figuring out how to get the money to pay for next semester. I asked him how many hours he planned on taking this coming semester. He said 12 or 13. I suggested he go back to his counselor and create a plan for the rest of his college career. Once he had the plan, I suggested he write a letter of appeal to the scholarship he had received but had to return because he didn't go to school this semester.

When he called after his afternoon meeting with the counselor, he was somewhat shocked and a little disappointed, "It's going to take me two more years to graduate!" In order to graduate in two years, he will need to take 17 hours for a couple of semesters. This information didn't surprise me. Actually, after watching him set out semesters and take classes back and forth at El Centro and Texas A & M-Commerce, I was actually surprised he could get out so soon!

Although he was disappointed, HE HAD CREATED A PLAN!!!! He knew the plan and he knew what it would take to graduate. He could see light at the end of the tunnel. And because he had a written out plan, he recognized what kind of effort it will take to make it there. He wrote his appeal letter to the scholarship fund (this is an excerpt):

I made things a lot harder for myself because I didn't take care of business in the beginning. I know it is imperative I make a budget and stay with it. I plan on getting a job on campus, this way I know for sure my work schedule will not conflict with class and study time. Here is a estimate of what it would cost me to attend Texas A & M University in Commerce...

Tuition 2,068.00
Room & Board 2,870.00
Books 495.00
Total 5,433.00

In case there was a delay with employment opportunities, I have been doing what I can to put funds aside to go towards my education. I will also continue applying for other scholarships. I know that there is no grantee I will get the full amount of the scholarship I'm applying for, but I would be extremely grateful for any amount that is granted to me.

Somehow that led to my a-ha moment. I've been working with these kids to get them into college...and it IS happening. They are getting in. They are going. But I've never really thought about the fact that they don't have a plan on how to get out and what to do when they finish. After talking to Terrance, what I realized is that many are just taking classes. It's almost like we've created a mindset that being in college has become the end goal. It is progress though. When I first came to Central Dallas we were working on moving them from a minset of being in high school to graduating from high school. Now we're moving from the mindset of being in college to graduating from college. I'm encouraged by that. ...but I also recognize that we have to move quickly so we don't lose kids along the way.

Terrance is a great guy. I have seen his frustrations and his determination. I'm sure there will be more frustrations. But he is hanging in there. I know he can get there. Some days it takes more effort and energy than others to convince him of that. However, I am looking forward to a few years from now when I will visit the 45th floor of some office building and have to go through his secretary to see him sitting behind his mohagany desk in his suit and tie making business deals.


Kent Fischer said...

This is an interesting thought -- that getting kids into college has unwittingly become the defacto goal, but ultimately is the wrong goal. Are kids who depend on scholarships more vulnerable, because they can't afford to screw up that first semester? And who should be holding the safety net: parents? kids? colleges?

Kent Fischer
Education writer
Dallas Morning News

Janet Morrison-Lane said...

I think they're definitely more vulnerable. We expect 19-year olds to navigate the financial aid system all by themselves. I would guess some of this falls on the parents...but then we need to consider that many of the parents did not go on to college...some didn't finish high school--thus affecting their knowledge of the process, their job possibilities, and their income capabilities of supporting their children through college. Many (if not all) of the kids I know are trying to break the cycle...but are taxed with not only getting an education but figuring out their financial aid, ensuring that loans are taken out (despite the fact that many parents do not have the credit to sign for them), getting caught up to college level academics (despite what their school offered), working to support their parents, brothers, sisters, or even their own children, and so much more.

As a society who cares about our children, our future, and our economic viability as a country, I would think that it's going to take a lot of people holding the safety net, but I also think everyone (not just those who can afford it) should have the right to pursue their education.