By Lisa King, Director, American College Application Campaign
Have you ever taken a walk on your favorite path after a storm? There may be branches or dirt on the route, but you still find a way to clear the path and navigate it because you know walking and seeing nature is good for you.
Likewise, the path this year for high school students pursuing a college degree or other higher education credential is going to look and feel different because of COVID-19 and the necessary social distancing changes. COVID-19 is exacerbating the barriers that often prevent learners in systemically underserved populations from navigating the college-going path. More students are questioning if college is the best option right now. The EAB recently reported that college enrollment deposits are down for all students at lower income levels, and the decline is greatest among students with the most need. Additionally, a national student survey by Simpson and Scarborough found that 10 percent of survey respondents who graduated in 2020 are changing their college plans.
It is important we all come together and remind students – especially Black, Native American, Latinx, and first-generation students – that planning for the future does not stop because of uncertainty and an unclear path forward.
With the support of creative and enthusiastic school counselors and educators, we know the American College Application Campaign (ACAC) can keep the Class of 2021 on track to apply to college. Investing in one’s education is the smartest way to deal with uncertainty, and school counselors are well-equipped to help clear the pathway for students as they pursue education beyond high school.
Higher education will continue to determine the future of our nation. Often, income inequalities are driven by a lack of access to college. Not only are college graduates half as likely to be unemployed as those with only a high school degree, they’re also more likely to vote and be leaders in their communities. The economic health and social viability of a democratic society is determined by the education of its citizens.
Even during this economic downturn, the value of a college degree remains very strong. Bloomberg reports that “of the 20 million Americans who have lost their job in the virus-induced crisis, many more have been individuals without a college education than those with at least a bachelor’s degree.” The Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce also highlights statistics that show significantly less unemployment for Americans with a bachelor’s degree or higher during the pandemic.
This is why the American College Application Campaign is committed to ensuring all students at ACAC events have a plan for education after high school.
The Campaign, which is part of ACT’s Center for Equity in Learning, is a national effort to increase the number of first-generation college students and students from low-income families pursuing a college degree or other higher education credential. The primary purpose of our work is to help high school seniors navigate the complex college application and admissions process and ensure they apply to at least one postsecondary institution. In 2019 ACAC supported more than 20 percent of the 2020 high school graduates. Nearly 7,300 high schools hosted campaign events assisting more than 763,400 seniors who submitted at least one college application. This led to more than 1.2 million college applications being submitted during ACAC events.
The effort typically occurs during the school day in the school building, with host sites guiding the graduating senior class through the college application process. State campaigns will declare a week or month as its official College Application Campaign and local high schools commit to organizing application events and activities. Of course, this year these events may be virtual or involve smaller in-person gatherings or a hybrid combination of a small group with a virtual program.
Regardless of what the event looks like, what’s most important is being intentional in making a plan to reach every senior. We know the reasons that can stop a student from applying to college all too well. In addition to systemic barriers creating inequality in college access, students may have doubts that college is worth it, fears about the application process, confusion about how to apply, or concerns they can’t afford a college application fee or the cost of college.
These concerns are likely to be heightened this year and in response, we must remind students they are not alone and help them see that we are ready to support them through these uncertainties.
High schools interested in organizing a college application event can register as official host sites to demonstrate their commitment to supporting seniors through the college application process. In addition, as high schools organize college application events across the country throughout the fall months, counselors, educators, parents and mentors are invited to join ACAC’s annual #WhyApply Day on Friday, September 18, to kick off the college application season. The purpose of #WhyApply Day is to inspire and motivate students for the college application process through social media.
Whether applying to a certificate program, two-year college or four-year university, it’s important to recognize and celebrate this critical and necessary step on the journey to postsecondary completion. To participate on Friday, September 18, wear your college gear and share on your favorite social media channels why you believe students should apply to college. Write your answer on this #WhyApply printout (English and Spanish) and post a photo of you holding it or video of your statement. Be sure to use the hashtag #WhyApply and tag the American College Application Campaign. Encourage your friends, family and colleagues to do the same.
Research has shown that most U.S. colleges admit those who apply to them, discounting fears that students can’t get in. By joining the Campaign, school counselors and educators can tap into resources to support students in their postsecondary planning and guide students through the college application process.
Americans are resilient; we’re already finding our way through the obstacles that the pandemic has created. Now’s the time to continue to keep our focus strong and help young people understand the path to opportunity after high school is there for them. ACAC is a way to make it happen.
Lisa King serves as director of the American College Application Campaign at ACT’s Center for Equity in Learning. Prior to joining ACT, King served local, state, and national nonprofits and education institutions through her communications consultancy, Lisa King Consulting, LLC. Before starting her consultancy, she worked for the Michigan College Access Network, Michigan Nonprofit Association, and Davis Brand Capitol.