Connecting students to college enrollment and success – College Possible
A college degree opens doors to economic growth, equality, and social mobility. Low-income and first-generation college-bound students face significant barriers to attaining a degree and these correlated outcomes. In fact, a low-income student is ten times less likely to earn a college degree than an upper-income student. Since 2000, College Possible has been helping low-income students build brighter futures by connecting them to the resources needed to succeed in college.
College Possible students begin a college preparatory curriculum in their junior year of high school and are supported through post-secondary education. High-schoolers participate in ACT/SAT prep, college tours, and summer enrichment opportunities, and receive guidance in applying for college, financial aid, and scholarships. Students are supported by a College Possible Coach, a recent graduate who dedicates a year (or more) to national service through the AmeriCorps program. The model has proven successful in helping students raise their ACT scores and enroll—98% of participants are admitted to college.
Lauren Hagen served with College Possible for two years, first as a Tech-Connected Coach and currently as a Campus Coach at Augsburg College. As a Tech-Connected Coach, she reached out to college students through phone calls, text, social media, and email to provide support. As a Campus Coach, she met face-to-face with students, checking in with more than 100 students every two to four weeks. Campus Coaches help students find internships, register for classes, complete the FAFSA for financial aid, and connect to other campus resources.
Lauren met many of her students during the Summer Bridge program which is designed to ease the transition between high school and college. Summer Bridge helps identify the last steps for college entry, such as orientation and housing applications.
Once on campus, Lauren says she helped facilitate several student-led events throughout the year. At the fall gathering, about 50 participants attended a drop-in session which included student performances and info sessions on class registration. Coaches also host targeted workshops in partnership with other campus offices, such as the career center, to introduce students to a broad range of resources.
The flexibility of the program is important for students; Lauren built relationships and helped each student define their unique goals and ways to rise above the barriers. College Possible utilizes a near-peer model, which means that “there’s not a strong line between the server and served.” Lauren says, “I’ve learned that I’ll be most helpful to my students if I show compassion and empathy. In return, they’ll do the same. It makes getting to know my students on a personal level very rewarding.” Because of the dedicated mentorship, College Possible students are five times more likely to graduate than their low-income peers.
Lauren says the program has “lofty goals which push coaches to a high standard” to help their students succeed. Regular meetings give coaches a chance to share stories, discuss issues, and get excited to continue their mission. The coaches embrace a culture of idealistic leadership which guides their interactions with students. Lauren cites the call to “challenge cynicism” as one of the key leadership traits that inspires her. “It’s easy to be brought down by the social issues we see daily,” she says. “We’re challenged to rise above our initial reactions of ‘I can’t’ when a problem seems insurmountable.” She says this attitude helped her to support and encourage her students to reach their full potential.
Annually, College Possible Coaches inspire 18,000 students to prepare for and succeed in college. The program puts students on a trajectory to attain the positive outcomes associated with a degree, including higher lifetime earnings, lower unemployment, and lower poverty. College Possible, started in Minnesota, has expanded to 5 cities across the country, with a goal to reach 10 national locations and 20,000 students by 2020.