There are few better investments than a college degree. A 2013 College Board report found that college graduates earn about $20,000 more annually than their peers with high school diplomas. Earning a bachelor’s degree isn’t as simple as just deciding to attend college, though. Prohibitive tuition costs, complicated financing procedures, and extensive admissions requirements limit the accessibility of degree programs across the country. Thankfully, aspiring college students have a powerful ally in their corner: college access programs like Reality Changers.
We recently spoke with a few experts on the benefits of such programs and why they’re so crucial for the academic community at large. Here are just a few ways community access programs enrich the lives of students everywhere:
Lowering the Barrier of Entry
“College access programs are best for those who don’t have immediate family members with, or pursuing, a college degree,” says Colin Ma, a former peer student counselor who runs an education blog. “The reason for this is because people with no college application experience typically aren’t great at filling applications (whether it is for education, jobs, or other means) and haven’t done research about colleges, nor do they have the foresight needed to properly plan for college.”
Indeed, college access programs help bridge the admissions gap for first generation college students. By offering application advice, college tours, mentorships, and other resources, programs like Reality Changers lower the barrier of entry for high school students who might otherwise slip between the admission cracks.
“Underrepresented students are very unlikely to have role models who are college graduates other than their teachers,” says Felice Douglas of College Momentum Academy. “As a result, less than 11% of low-income first-generation college students graduate with a bachelor’s degree within six years. Many college access programs provide mentors to show those students how to not only get into college but also to graduate successfully.”
Navigating the Financial Aid System
Financial aid programs, grants, and scholarships make expensive tuition costs easier to bear. If a student is unaware of these options, though, they often assume college is too expensive and out of reach for their families. College access programs dispel myths about the price tag of a college degree, encouraging students of all financial backgrounds to pursue their goals without taking on crippling debt.
“CAPs will help not only in recommending financial aid such as FAFSA, but also with identifying relevant scholarships,” says Ma. “Knowing this can truly make or break a student’s ability to
Caroline Glynn Neal of the Denver Scholarship Foundation agrees. “College access programs provide critical support to students – particularly low-to-moderate income, first-generation college-going students who face financial, academic, and social barriers to successfully navigating college admissions, financial aid, and postsecondary coursework.”
Gaining a Competitive Edge
Once students realize the possibilities, college access programs help give them an academic boost. “CAPs help students plan a curriculum to make them more competitive, says Ma. “For example, high schools in California require just 1 year of a foreign language. However, colleges want to see more than that. In this case, the student will get recommendations to study a language for at least 3 years to make them more competitive.”
While this kind of guidance might be traditionally provided by school counselors, college access programs fill in when overworked advisors struggle to get face time with students. “The American School Counselor Association recommends a 250 to 1 student to school counselor ratio,” says Douglas. “At many schools that serve low-income communities, the ratios are 800 to 1 or higher.”
Advice on which courses to take is just the beginning. “CAPs also help students with the actual application process – from choosing colleges to apply to personal statements,” says Ma. “Helping with this process ensures the students are efficient with their time and money spent on applications.”
The Community Impact
The benefits of such programs have a butterfly effect, spilling out into the community and labor market.
College offers students the chance to expand their horizons, meet people of all different backgrounds, and explore new concepts and ideas. However, student populations at many colleges are not representative of the diversity of nearby communities. College access programs help to increase inclusion at these institutions and in the working world by bringing in students from underrepresented demographic groups.
For first-generation college students, the impact is even greater. Students with academic success at the university level may be more inclined to motivate their siblings, cousins, and friends to apply to college. Their own children will be more likely to attend college in the future. A single admission letter can trigger a community-wide domino effect.
Boost the Efforts of Our College Access Program Now
The impact of college access programs is undeniable. Organizations like Reality Changers, however, are dependent on support from the community to provide these programs to students. You can get involved and help future college studnents to achieve their dreams.
Learn more about Reality Changers and how you can make a difference.
Want more insight on how college access programs benefit students and their communities? Here are a few more resources on the subject: