Friday, May 1, 2009

A Tale of Two Students

May 1, 2009- For most of 2009’s college bound-seniors, the nerve-wracking trips to the mailbox are finally over. The rejection letters are no longer visible, yet their sting still lingers. Some acceptances are being framed. A few have made it to the graduation scrapbooks. And others still hang on the fridge. It’s now just a matter of a million plus students deciding where they’ll find themselves when summer ends.

For many, it’s been a long journey culminating in years of planning, prudent decisions, and plenty of support. For others it’s been a few months of capricious choices, cumbersome paperwork and “let’s get this over with”. College planning in America is still a paradox among youth transitions. Unfortunately, this scenario is not the norm for all students.

A recent report released by the Joyce Ivy Foundation focused on Ohio, one state in America, to demonstrate not only the disparity between the services students receive, but to show how the college and career planning process, as it stands today, needs more focus, added attention and an improved system “democratization”.

According to the report, at a private school a student is likely to receive almost three times the amount of time with a counselor on college planning than at a public. Even more surprising, public high school counselors say they spend a little more than a quarter of their time helping students with college counseling. Maybe because according to NACAC, the national average is now reaching 500 students to every one counselor. And with budget cuts looming, this ratio isn’t likely to improve even with a shrinking student demographic. Who pays the price?

Meet Rachael, a senior at a regional high school in a metro suburb. She shares her counselor with 440 other students. She might appear to be distracted when she’s thinking about what color prom dress to buy or whom she can get to cover her Saturday shift at Applebee’s. But never does a minute go by that she is not trying to figure out what she’s going to do in the Fall. She’s deciding if she should apply her full Pell grant to cover all costs at the local community college as an undecided freshman or use her credit cards to finance the heftier tuition for the nursing program. Too bad she didn’t know she could have qualified for a waiver if she had enrolled in A&P and earned a better Chemistry grade.

Meet Justin, a senior at an all-boys private high school. He is one of 25 seniors his counselor supports. He might look distracted with band practice or the town wiffleball league he founded. But, never does a minute go by that he is not struggling with his admission decision; even when his parents aren’t cornering him in his room where they find him studying for his calculus test. He is trying to decide if he “accepts” at the large public state university with a $4,500 annual scholarship that pays half his tuition and membership in the Honors Program or does he go to the elite private college, in Washington DC, where he has received no aid and a $45,000 tuition bill.

Ironically, as this report was being publicized, ConnectEDU was in Ohio connecting with our many high school counselors at the Ohio Association of College Admission Counseling Conference. In addition to touching base with our district partners from Cincinnati, Dayton, and Cleveland – who are committed to improving this process- we introduced our college and career planning solutions to help reverse the trend that the Foundation pointed out. We continue to show counselors how they can find more time to work with their students on planning & preparation – whether they’re at a private or public school.

Our mission is to fix a broken system in order to benefit students and those who serve them. With more time, perhaps counselors may have set Rachael on a curriculum plan that included Anatomy & Physiology during her junior year. Or even shown Justin and his parents how to manage college finances long before senior year. ConnectEDU’s solutions can help.

These are just two kids out of millions struggling to decide what their future holds. Clearly, the economy in which we find ourselves isn’t making the decision any easier this year – for both sides of the spectrum. For many seniors, things are going as planned. For others, the plan has yet to be mapped out. Unless we do something to improve the system for students (all students) as they plan their future, college decision season will continue to be the best of times, and the worst of times… depending on who you ask.

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