College Access Programs: Reaching Students in Rural Areas

Last week, the National College Access Network hosted its conference, “Changing the Odds: College Success for All,” in Las Vegas and included both in-person and virtual events. The virtual conference spanned all three days, with as many as six virtual events held in one day. The Wednesday Webinar, Long Distance Relationships in College Access; How to Make Them Work, focused on building relationships and communicating with individuals transitioning from high school to college who live in more remote, particularly rural, areas. The Webinar discussed some of the general challenges that can arise for college access professionals in reaching rural students and their families, including increased difficulties that may arise when students and their families live farther away from the direct community. Marsha Watson (College Knowledge Project –Mississippi), Amber Lange (Emerging Scholars Program – South Carolina), and Catalina Hernandez (Illinois College Advising Corps – Illinois) talked about their respective programs and the tools they used to keep in touch with students and families in more distant geographical areas.

Watson outlined the College Knowledge Project’s combined methods of outreach in Mississippi, including building community partnerships and opportunities for professional development. With a diverse target audience– ranging from community leaders to low-income students, students in high school and middle school, and non-traditional or first-generation college students–the project’s Web site provides many resources to inform all stakeholder levels. The program also strives to physically meet students and their families where they are most likely to be. For instance, the project held a college access marketing campaign, which provided opportunities for staff to talk to students and parents at athletic events. Watson noted that despite living far from their general high school community, students and parents were likely to be present at these types of events and therefore available to hear what the College Knowledge Project has to offer regarding college options.

Lange discussed South Carolina’s Emerging Scholar Program, which has existed at Clemson University since 2002. While it is housed within the university, its purpose is not solely to promote college access to Clemson, Lange emphasized. The program targets low-income and first-generation students via a three-phase program that takes place in the summers prior to students’ sophomore, junior, and senior years of high school. In each phase, students are exposed to a variety of resources and skills’ practices, including team building, academic evaluations, collaboration, reading, writing, mathematics, college access information, and college application planning. Seniors are also taken on a day college trip to Atlanta to visit Morehouse, Spellman and Clark-Atlanta [1]. The program also holds activities during the school year. It boasts a success rate of 100% for graduation and a 90% rate of students continuing past high school either in college or the military.

Hernandez outlined the mission of the Illinois College Advising Corps (ICAC), which is “to increase college attendance and completion by Illinois students, particularly those who are low income, underserved and first generation.” Modeled after the National College Advising Corps, the ICAC’s Access Corps follows a “Near Peer” model where recent graduates of the University of Illinois serve as advisers in the high schools. The program recently received a grant from Texas Guaranteed (TG) to create a retention model for students (specifically those who are low-income and attending a state university/community college). In its pilot year, the program’s Retention Corps matched 419 students to a Public University or Community College in the fall of 2011, and 404 in the spring of 2012. Eighty-seven percent of the program’s students are of an ethnic minority, and 86% come from low-income families. You can read more about the grant, “Illinois Completes College,” here.

Note: This blog post was originally authored under the auspices of the National High School Center at the American Institutes for Research (AIR). The National High School Center’s blog, High School Matters, which ran until March 2013, provided an objective perspective on the latest research, issues, and events that affected high school improvement. The CCRS Center plans to continue relevant work originally developed under the National High School Center grant. National High School Center blog posts that pertain to CCRS Center issues are included on this website as a resource to our stakeholders.

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