College Knowledge
August 19, 2008 9:39 PM   Subscribe

What are some good ways to motivate underprivileged high school juniors and seniors to pursue a college education?

I work in several inner-city high schools and I'm trying to find innovative ways to help the upperclassmen enroll in some sort of postsecondary education, be it junior college, tech school, or a 4 year school.

From what I gather, the students have a vague idea of their future plans and how college fits in, but they don't understand the steps necessary to get there (i.e. filling out important paperwork and turning it in on time, taking more difficult classes, etc.)

Does anyone know of any one-on-one or group activities and materials that will provide students and their families with the most basic information about college and how to get there?
posted by chara to Education (17 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I've never implemented this, but one approach that I NEVER see educators use is real world examples of purchasing power.

Kids are shallow and materialistic they also have delusions of grandeur. They sometimes really think that they can get out of high school and still make good money, enough money to pay for all the things they want: cars and flat screen tvs.

So, talk to them about what minimum wage jobs are like. Then give them some real world examples of post-college earnings and what that buys you. I really like using cars as an example... you can't buy a $50,000 ride with a high school education. You just can't do it.

I always thought it would be fun to bring in a car salesman from a Porsche dealership and have him talk about the type of people who buy their cars, their employment and earnings, etc...

I don't know if it would work or not... but I think for a lot of kids out there the idea that you put in four years of extra school work and suddenly you have a real shot at making six figure incomes somewhere down the road can be a real motivator.

Hopefully once they get in college then they will actually grow up and start caring about education for education's sake.

Good luck.
posted by wfrgms at 10:04 PM on August 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

Oh, and I meant to add: As far as getting kids use to the enrollment process, that's as simple as getting them to log on to some university websites and request info packets. You could make an assignment out of that.

Also, providing the kids with the names and locations of nearby schools may help them visualize going to college. Frankly, the thought of going "off to college" in another state maybe a little alien to some of these kids - keep it local.
posted by wfrgms at 10:07 PM on August 19, 2008

Best answer: Create "The Dream Project". Students or people can't be motivated unless it's aligned with there dreams.

So first you want to get them to talk about there dreams. In a one-on-one setting or in groups. The tricky part will be getting them to be excited and open as opposed to feeling shunned or embarrassed by talking about their dreams or something that doesn't sound 'cool.'

So as a rule I'd suggest that you you stipulate to them that they have to 'dream big' and 'think outside the box". This will also also them to open their self-esteem. And if any other fellow students give them a hard time 'peer pressure' the student can state that the homework was to 'Go Big and Do what you Love."

Also, one big limitation in having people choose careers is that we have a very very limited number of career options that we think of. We often think doctor, lawyer, actor, musician but there in fact thousands of jobs that people have never heard of (e.g. designer of prosthetic devices, safe water tester) that are very satisfying, lucrative and stable.

So exploring with them non-typical jobs, that no one had heard of and talking about it to the class, should also get the creative juiciest flowing.

The natural flow then to to talk about training some programs require little 3-6 month certification and lead to excellent salary.

Get them excited about the money too. And that someone needs to do that job. So why shouldn't it be them? mentality and you should really get things going.

Then perhaps a tour of a tech institute where the teaches are always happy to try to recruit interested students.

Hope that helps :)
posted by heron at 10:21 PM on August 19, 2008

Help them see that four years (or even longer for professional school) isn't all that long. A lot of the kids I grew up with (and even me, when I was a teen) thought that four years of college was forever and that you'd come out with an insurmountable amount of debt. I knew kids who stuck with $11/hr grocery jobs because it was money in their pocket. When I graduated from college, I wasn't making much more. And so I knew people who thought it was stupid to go to university to make $30k a year. But I wasn't making $30k for long. I worked my way through college, so I didn't have debt, but, if I had, I could have certainly afforded to loan payments. I had a hard time imagining that when I was a teen. So did my friends who stuck with clerk and cashier jobs. Now they're still making $25k or $40k a year and they're 30-something.

Also, where I grew up, only brilliant people went to university. So there was this idea that you had to be brilliant to get a BA, let alone go to med school or do an MBA. In fact, when I started my MBA, I was terrified of how smart my fellow students were going to be. I was more than a little surprised when I got the highest mark in one of my classes in first semester. If you had to be brilliant to go to university, you had to be freaking brilliant to do an MBA, right? Well, nope. And you don't have to be all that special to become a teacher, lawyer, doctor, accountant, etc. But I didn't know that when I was growing up. The only people I knew who'd gone to university were teachers, my doctor and perhaps three other peope. And they were smart and came from "rich" families. (Middle class.)

So help them see themselves in university. Help them see themselves paying for it. Help them see themselves succeeding.
posted by acoutu at 10:56 PM on August 19, 2008 [3 favorites]

Some examples from my local community:

Our Community College has a scholarship program (from $1000-1600/year, enough to cover tuition + some books) open to anyone with a 2.75+ gpa. They go to every high school with application forms and literally walk every senior (no matter whether they're planning on going to the CC) through filling it out during class time. This helps ensure that students who hadn't already planned on continuing can leave the option open without missing the application deadline, and also serves as outreach for enrollment.

A local charter school geared towards university preparation for minority kids developed an agreement with our state university guaranteeing admission to any kid who met college eligibility requirements when they graduated. You can read more about their programs here and here.
posted by nerdcore at 11:04 PM on August 19, 2008

Hmm, at my university we have an outreach program/coordinator that really provides programs, ideas, information to get students into the pipeline. Have you tried rooting around the websites of universities - not just junior colleges, but also at 4 year and graduate school programs. (My uni only has graduate programs in the biomedical sciences, and we have high school outreach programs). It's possible you can tap into something already in existence, or have someone just give good ideas or even present to your students. Nothing like taking a tour and having college student with similar backgrounds share their story with your high school students. In addition to the 'my dream project' approach of determining a goal - a person creates a tangible example of someone achieving it - someone just like them.

Wonderful stuff you're doing! Good luck!
posted by anitanita at 11:15 PM on August 19, 2008

Best answer: They don't understand the steps necessary to get there (i.e. filling out important paperwork and turning it in on time, taking more difficult classes, etc.)

Then this is where you need to begin. You need to explain a lot of things most middle/upper-class/not-"new"-to-college students and families already know or can find out easily:

- what a university/college is: a place for research as well as teaching
- how this is different from a community college (which is mostly about teaching and training), and how one can transfer from the latter to the former if one wants to save money or stay closer to home
- what a major is, and why it is usually unimportant to decide on one until partway through college anyway even if one is particularly motivated (I went in thinking I was going to go into the foreign service...and now I teach English abroad. Typical story.)

- what daily life is like for students from all kinds of income backgrounds (some work, some don't; some have loans, some don't; some live off-campus, some live on-campus, food on campus...)
- how classes and schedules work and change over the year
- how colleges and unversities are WAY WAY WAY more supportive than high schools are in many ways: choosing classes, free counseling, discounted/free health care...
- how extracurriculars run the gamut from debate to capoeira to
- what students do over vacations: internships, research, jobs related (and not) to their fields of study, summer school (to finish faster!)

- how college is paid for (the FAFSA, loans/grants, scholarships), and how at many universities, low-income students pay very little/nothing - don't neglect to mention the astonishingly TINY chance most students have at getting a "full-ride" athletic scholarship of any kind
- how their disadvantage is (weird as this may be to them) actually a desired trait sought out by universities seeking to diversify their student body

- if it's relevant to the people you're working with, talk about historically black colleges and universities as well

And don't forget to address a few big misconceptions that your students may have:

- that everyone at a university is "smart"
- that you have to join a fraternity/sorority
- that limited-English students can't attend (community colleges provide many, many English classes)
- that non-citizens can't attend (pretty much, if you're here legally, there's a way to go)
- that you can only attend the community college in your community (many people in California move to communities with community colleges with special transfer agreements with local University of California/California State Universities campuses)
- that the number on the "tuition" part of the website is what everyone actually pays to attend
- that as soon as one leaves college, one begins raking in big money
- that access to the Ivies and other elite schools is purely on the basis of if your parents went there
- that everyone in college is happy/has a lot of sex/does well academically/deals with being away from home well: basically, that college kids are well-adjusted, mature individuals all the time

All that said: one person in my life, age 18, took "normal" classes in high school (so no APs or honors classes), did mostly OK academically, skipped the SAT, and starts community college in a week. The non-competitive applicaiton process had no ties to his school at all - in fact, all he had to do was prove he was 18 and "capable of benefiting from instruction". I don't think he even needed to show proof that he had graduated - there was no diploma check or anything, though there was a matriculation process where he had to demonstrate that he could do algebra and write a basic essay in English cogently. (These things may be quite challenging for your students if the school isn't keeping their end of the bargain here, and if admission to community colleges in your state is determined by graduating high school first.)

His fees and books and parking permit come to just $700 for his full-time semester of five classes while he lives at home (we don't qualify for any need-based aid, but if we did, this would be lower/less). That might come as a shock to your students, too: that community college is actually affordable, accessible, and very low-hassle compared to universities, and that the road to transferring to a university from a community college isn't a rock-strewn path, but a rather smooth ride, as long as students work with counselors to make sure their work transfers (which involves, maybe, a few hours of going to the counseling office every term).

Overall, this may not be a motivational thing so much as it is just getting the information out there. Many universities also offer in-person visits from admissions staff who go to all kinds of schools and work with all kinds of applicants - just call up a few university admission offices in your state and see what they do in your community already.
posted by mdonley at 11:36 PM on August 19, 2008 [3 favorites]

wfrgms's idea leaves me cold, because it makes college/university a materialistic thing. We already have this problem in Malaysia where the only reason young people go to uni (other than it being something they're expected to do) is to get a job that pays them lots of money. Unfortunately they are not prepared for changing plans, or even for the realization that the first job may not have anything to do with your degree or even pay big - they're expecting CEO level right off the bat. They aren't trained to be flexible, and they blame everyone else - school, uni, Government, whatever - for not giving them jobs.

The people who go on unusual paths - entrepreneurship, skipping uni to do something else, the arts, whatever - may be personally happier and content with their lives, but they receive a lot of unwarranted derision and disrespect for others because they went against the norm. Their flexibility and creativity isn't honoured.

I would personally stay away from any approach that implies that it's Higher Education or Nothing, that they would be a failure at life without higher ed. Make sure that it's a possibility for them (there are so many different kinds of higher ed, as you've pointed out, that there is nearly something for everyone) but make sure they also realize that a large part of life is dealing with their circumstances instead of letting a lack of a certain experience get in the way. For some of your kids, college will never be (or won't be immediately) an option, due to circumstances or choice, and that should be respected too.
posted by divabat at 11:37 PM on August 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

- how extracurriculars run the gamut from debate to capoeira to intermural softball!
posted by mdonley at 11:37 PM on August 19, 2008

You might want to look at Colleges That Change Lives as well, for examples of higher ed that's more unusual.

Re-reading your question, it seems less of "will I ever figure college into my life" as it is a question of "how the heck do I even APPLY, the paperwork is terrible". (It was largely the paperwork that turned me off applying to US unis - I got into my Oz one after 5 mins talking to the registrar admin person!) In that case, having short sessions or workshops about aspects of the application - creating a resume, the personal essays, etc would help. Just make everything into clear easy language, and provide direct steps on getting there.

You could make (or search for, there should be some) a guide on College Applications 101. How to choose one? (It's a match, not a trophy!) What questions do you need to answer? What's FAFSA? How do you find out your family income? Where to get scholarships? As mentioned earlier, a series of workshops, with personal guidance, would work well. Seems like they just need someone to work it through with them bit by bit.
posted by divabat at 11:42 PM on August 19, 2008

Big dreams are great, but I would focus on accomplishing real world objectives. Have them pick out their top five or ten schools. Get them a common application and have them fill it out. Get them loan some counseling. Fill out the FAFSA. Make them take some practice SATs. Get them involved in the process to the point that they realize this is a realistic possibility for them. This gets the initial hurdles out of the way, such as information gathering, recommendations, tax form information, transcript request processing, essay writing, etc. They know that college is big step forward, and some of them might have dreamed about it or considered it, but their environment often leads them in other directions.

Ever have something in the back of your mind that you knew you were supposed to do, like renew your license? But every time you remembered it was coming up you didn't have your registration with you because you needed to get some form from your insurance carrier? And then work was busy and you had to find a new apartment and then your Uncle Jimmy got sick and before you know you it you are getting pulled over by cops with an expired license. These kids live more chaotic lives than their affluent counterparts. When they go home they often don't have the opportunity to do research on schools and write essays and study because their household is in a state of constant flux.

When they start getting involved and committed to the process, they are going to have a very different outlook. Without that their own troubles, fear, indifference and apathy will take over and as much as they might want to go to college it is just as likely to slip through their fingers.
posted by sophist at 12:05 AM on August 20, 2008

Can you contact former students of your school who went to college(/community college/tech school)? Maybe you could make a day of it, asking reps from the school and former students to talk to your kids? You could maybe try to set up some mentoring, even. That was what was most helpful to me, in going through the application process (leaving for Williams next Monday!!). I had a friend from a summer program who also went to a small liberal arts school, and he was really cool with helping me get a handle on the process. Checklists, sending me his essays so I could see what an application essay might look like, etc. My older brother did the same thing for me. I had some familiarity with the process, and had school support, but the help of people who had gone through the process recently was what reassured me the most.
posted by MadamM at 12:29 AM on August 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

A few years ago, I was on a community board that reviewed grant requests. One of out grants was given to a mentoring program that seems similar to what you are trying to accomplish.

The mentors were volunteers that committed to spending 50 hours per year on this project. Each mentor was assigned a few high potential, but at risk students. The mentors agreed to go to the school on a set schedule (at lunch or after-school). They students and mentors met to discuss the application process and the student's questions.

Many of the students were the first person in their family to go to college. The parents often wanted college for their child, but had no idea how to guide that. The mentors did several things - provided guidance and structure to the college application process, reviewed documents, applications and essays, and taught students how to research and find answers to their questions.

Some of the questions were easy for the mentors to answer. "How do I dress for my interview?" "What happens if I miss the PSAT?" Some of the questions were more challenging. "My parent is in prison. What should I put for Father's Occupation on the application?" "My parents are illegal immigrants and don't file taxes. Can I apply for aid?"

It was a small, but very successful program. The keys seemed to be extremely dedicated volunteers, a school counseling system that supported the program and some seed money to cover application costs, etc.
posted by 26.2 at 3:39 AM on August 20, 2008

Response by poster: Thank you everyone! Great answers!
posted by chara at 6:05 AM on August 20, 2008

I want to reinforce what MadamM wrote. A lot of the high school students you are trying to motivate have already accepted that college is for other kinds of people. Before dealing with paperwork, standardized tests, etc, there needs to be a leap of imagination. For some kids, having a former student (or someone from a neighboring school who can joke about the rivalry) talk about their experience in college can be a catalyzing experience. This person looks like me, talks like me -- and they're in college?
I'd like to also suggest that you think about starting younger. Getting middle school students to recognize that this is a possibility allows them to plan what they do in high school, and to think about school in a different way. By the time they are juniors, students' self-image is harder to change, and habits of mind have formed.
posted by Killick at 6:26 AM on August 20, 2008

I have a son starting sophomore year of high school and he has learned this very difficult to teach lesson this summer. He is working an extraordinarily boring warehouse job he absolutely hates. His co-worker is a young man in early twenties for whom this is not a summer job. This young man found himself a father at 18 and had to quit school and get a job to pay child support. For once, I didn't have to do or say anything. This experience has taught my son everything he needs to know about keeping it zipped and staying in school. I have never seen him so committed to finishing a summer reading assignment.

Can you create a work-study experience with incredibly sucky job assignments?
posted by Breav at 11:23 AM on August 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Okay. Teacher here; I specialize in taking the lowest achievers and bringing them up (not all me- that's what the school gives me and I WON'T teach Honors or AP).
I have taught/will teach 12th grade English for the kids who failed 11th grade English (and usually 10th and often 9th). They are comfortable about failing and going to 'adult school' to make up the credits. Sometimes adult school is easier; I'm led to believe that a lot of slack is given on grades there. These kids are so far behind at this point. They've either totally screwed the pooch and might not graduate at all, or they've complicated their lives with babies, drinking and drug problems or relationship drama and my talking is just a distraction. I have to make it personal.
In the first 9 weeks of school, we agree to agree on certain standards and study skills. Writing has a beginning, middle and end, etc.
Weeks 10 to 18 are spent dreaming about the perfect life: where do you want to live? How much will your home cost? Buy or rent? Whatcha gonna drive? Whatcha gonna wear? Where will you vacation? When will you retire? A lot of these kids see their parents getting older, having to work hard and not having the prospect of retiring.
At the semester break, every kid presents his or her dream life. I've seen Hummers, beach houses, trips to Rio, closets full of South Pole and Baby Phat at full retail. And that's fine! At the end of the presentation, the kid writes up the numbers: the net salary he or she needs to have this life.
Then, for the rest of the year, we look at careers that will allow this lifestyle. No bullshit is allowed. If they want to be criminals, we look at the recent study showing that most drug dealers at the retail level make less than minimum wage; kids with fantasies of becoming Mr Big are dissuaded with facts. Kids who want to be rappers, sports stars, models, etc, are encouraged to follow their dreams with some realistic action: going to real tryouts for a semipro team, going to a real open mic night...NOT ONE KID has actually done this, interestingly enough...
(And, hey, I know. I'm killing their dreams. I'm killing their dreams before their dreams kill them. If they can't get on stage or try out for a team NOW, how will they do it later, when they have to work to support themselves?)
At around week 28, we go back to the old dream life and we adjust it to reality. You can't be a rapper- the 'x factor' is too powerful- but you can be an arborist or a CPA or a doctor's assistant or mechanic and then rap on the weekends- rap until you get hoarse!
At the end of the year, reality has replaced confusion.
posted by flowerofhighrank at 11:58 AM on August 20, 2008 [3 favorites]

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