THE BLOG
03/15/2013 09:27 am ET Updated May 15, 2013

Listen Up, High School Students and Families: This College President Is Going to Be Intrusive!

The Chronicle of Higher Education recently ran an in-depth article on life "inside a semester of Remedial English." Entitled "The Second Chance Club," the article offers a close look at students in one developmental (also called remedial) course classroom -- their hopes, their dreams, and their many challenges. The article struck a particular chord with me, because the students profiled were students at my college, Montgomery College. I urge you to read this excellent piece, as it paints a complex picture of what our students (and their dedicated professor, Dr. Greg Wahl) face in their efforts to pass non-credit developmental English and move into college-level English courses.

Many of the students who enroll in developmental classes are promising students, bright and capable of college-level work, as the Chronicle article shows. The issue for a number of them is they do not know how to prepare for college -- and just as importantly, their families do not know how to prepare for college.

That is why I am an advocate for intrusive advising and academic coaching for promising but at-risk high school students. This intrusive outreach should extend not only to students, but also their families. I strongly believe that by preparing the whole family for college, we can increase college-going rates and reduce remediation.

Anyone who is a parent of a high school or college student -- or recalls their own experience -- knows it is a complex and often confusing journey to get into college, to stay in college and graduate. Still, many parents can draw from their own experiences and advise their children. While it can still be quite stressful, at least they have the knowledge and tools to navigate the college experience.

Now, imagine you have never attended college. Perhaps you are a single parent, trying to make ends meet by working two jobs. Perhaps you are not a native English speaker. Imagine trying to navigate the college application process with your child from this perspective. The reality is, there are many families and communities who know nothing of the college process, including how to get into college, how to afford college, and what it takes to succeed once in college. For such families, it is a truly daunting process.

As the first in my family to attend college, I remember sitting with my father at our kitchen table on the south side of Chicago and looking at financial aid forms that might as well have been written in a different language. It was overwhelming for both of us. To this day I am grateful that we muddled through... because that path to college made all the difference in my life -- and the life of my son.

My family was exactly the kind of family that would have benefited from intrusive advising and coaching. My family would have loved a program like ACES.

ACES, a new program in our county, stands for Achieving Collegiate Excellence and Success. ACES does just that, providing the academic coaches, mentors and supports to assist promising young people in their quest for a brighter future. It is a college readiness and success program all in one. Our first group of students, over 900 high school students in total, will begin working one-on-one with Montgomery College academic coaches this fall.

ACES has two innovative elements: first, it is collaboration among three major county education partners: our public schools, our community college, and our local public university partner, the Universities at Shady Grove (USG). This partnership is modeled on the successful Pathways to Baccalaureate program in Northern Virginia.

Second, the program places Montgomery College academic coaches and resources directly into 8 county high schools (we hope to expand to more in the future). It engages at-risk yet promising students and their families and clears a path to college completion. Efforts include advising students on how to select a college major; assistance completing college applications and financial aid applications; assistance with scholarship searches and applications; tutoring in reading, writing, and math, as needed; and visits to Montgomery College. Parent information sessions are a key part of the program.

The advising/coaching elements continue when the student enrolls at Montgomery College and later transfers to the Universities at Shady Grove.

ACES sets an ambitious goal for its student participants: attainment of the bachelor's degree. Partnerships like ACES can help Maryland reach its goal of 55 percent of the population achieving a degree beyond high school by 2025.

Programs like ACES offer support and structure for promising young people and their families. ACES says to them that college is possible -- that a degree is possible. That with the right supports, the seemingly insurmountable becomes doable. And that is a good thing not only for young people and their families, but for entire communities who are lifted by education.

Believe me, I know.

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