The following article was originally published in the Sun Community News on January 24, 2022.
ESSEX | Since the onset of the pandemic, teachers and guidance counselors have had to go above and beyond. That, along with remote learning and distracting Covid protocols have slowed momentum for sending rural students on to college.
It shows in the numbers, as college admissions in 2020 showed a 6.8 percent decrease. Break the numbers down further, and the outsized share of that drop was among high-poverty high schools, where admissions were down 11.4 percent, compared to just 2.9 percent at high schools with a wealthier student population.
To help rectify those numbers as they apply to the North Country, CFES Brilliant Pathways, an Essex-based nonprofit focused on making college more accessible to rural, low-income students, is implementing a program that will help parents learn the ropes of college admissions, from finding the right school to applying for financial aid.
The free, online program includes four half-hour seminars, followed by monthly progress updates. They began Jan. 20, but the sessions will be recorded and available, along with registration, by visiting brilliantpathways.org, going to the “Our Programs” drop-down menu and selecting “College & Career Readiness Advisors.”
According to Brilliant Pathways, “After two years of remote and hybrid classes, and now the prospect of yet more pandemic-style learning, many barely know the teachers on whom they will rely for recommendations; high school counselors, already overwhelmed by their caseloads, are even more inaccessible; and the college application process and financial aid has changed dramatically.”
As such, it makes sense for families to take charge of students’ career goals. “Parents want to help, they just don’t know how,” said Brilliant Pathways President and CEO Rick Dalton.
CFES has offered its College and Career Readiness (CCR) training to school personnel, private sector volunteers and community members for two years, with more than 2,000 completing the course. Parents from elementary school through high school can benefit.
Dalton said interest in this winter’s course has been strong, with registrations approaching 1,000 people.
“We support parents and families so they can support their kids,” Dalton said.
The mission is urgent, as college enrollment is slipping and the disparity between rich and poor families is accentuated. “This has always been a rural issue, and then Covid came along, which takes it to another level,” he said. “Kids from low-income families are falling behind more than their high-income peers, and that’s a travesty.”
According to the National Student Clearinghouse, the number of American students attending college is down by nearly 1 million since the onset of the pandemic. Some of the decline can be attributed to lower birth rates and the high number of available job openings. But a growing skepticism pertaining to higher learning — as Covid, for example, has divided the public opinion of science — has also played a role. A lack of firm direction and advice about financial aid and affordability contributes to the negative momentum.
“It is a crisis, and I don’t think it’s widely recognized yet that it is,” Jason Lane, dean of Miami University’s College of Education, Health and Society, told The Washington Post.
“No matter what you do, you have to have post-secondary learning,” Dalton said. A lack of higher education is attributable not just to lower earning power and the likelihood of living in poverty, but also to such social outcomes as a greater risk of health problems and a higher chance of divorce.
The training is taught by CFES professionals. Highlights of the training include:
—Equipping families with tools and activities to better prepare their children to become college and career-ready.
—Helping parents develop essential skills in their children like perseverance, teamwork and networking for success in school, the workplace and beyond.
—Understanding new pathways to college and careers.
—Finding the right college or technical school and navigating the application process.
—Accessing scholarships and financial aid and comparing offers.
—Conducting in-person and virtual college visits.
—Earning college credit before high school graduation.
Parents who complete the course will earn a certificate from the University of Vermont.
The first 1,000 parents of CFES students to enroll and complete the training will each receive a $25 gift card.
By Tim Rowland