Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Improving College Access Now, in Your Building, for Free

by Patrick O'Connor, Ph.D.

Fall may bring a new school year, but some of our work as counselors simply picks up where we left off. That’s the case in the world of college admission, where a June report indicated another drop in enrollment, highlighted by a 9.5% drop in community colleges. Given most students who don’t start college right after high school never enroll, this has long term implications for our workforce and our economy.

This drop in college numbers has led some counselors to wonder what can be done to turn this situation around—and they came up with an answer. One of the long-standing mysteries of college counseling is how it works—we talk to students about applying to college, but the actual completion of the application is left for the student, largely on their own, after school, or on weekends. If they get stuck with an item, they either wait to ask their counselor in school (a waiting period fraught with its own challenges), or they simply take their best guess.

Applying to college isn’t always hard, but it is important, and the challenges student face in making the right college choice deserve as much support as possible. That’s why these counselors worked this summer to answer a simple question: What if students could search for and apply to college and scholarships during the school day, as part of a class, with the help and support of a counselor, college adviser, or other college-aware adult?

The answer has taken form in a curriculum called Senior College Seminar (SCS), a program designed to give students college help when it will do them the most good—when help is available. The curriculum is 37 units, and begins with important ideas like Why College, and What is College. It then covers all aspects of the college search and application process, including building a list, writing essays, tracking extracurricular activities, and more. Paying for college takes up several lessons, and the final lessons discuss the transition to college, and avoiding summer melt.

The beauty of SCS lies in its flexibility. Knowing high schools have very different schedules, lessons can be taught in segments of 10 minutes, 20 minutes, or 20 minutes-plus. Since each lesson is written independent of the others, this means they can be taught in any order, or skipped all together. Schools can create a separate SCS class, add it to an existing class (like a Careers class or study hall), build it into a required class (as a unit for, say the English 12 program), or run it as an after school activity. With its detailed resources and minimal tech requirements, SCS comes complete and ready to teach, while leaving educators free to add to each lesson as they see fit.

I would hesitate to share information about SCS with you, since I am its principal author (with the help of a stunning array of colleagues), but SCS is free to any educator. Our friends at SCOIR have been very supportive of SCS, and all you need do is follow this link to get your free copy—you don’t have to be a SCOIR user. It’s clear there’s an interest here, since the site had over 1300 downloads in the first week alone.

Counselor time is more valuable than ever, as our services as mental health professionals increase during this time of COVID. SCS allows counselors to meet those needs, while making sure college planning doesn’t get overlooked with an approach that is structured, individualized, and hands-on. There’s never been a greater need for that kind of college help.

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