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. However, earning a bachelor’s degree isn’t as simple as just deciding to attend college. 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.
WHAT IS A COLLEGE ACCESS PROGRAM?
Just what is a college access program, anyway? A college access program is an initiative that can help students from underrepresented or overlooked backgrounds gain admission to and succeed in college. The primary goal of such programs is to level the educational playing field by offering resources and support that may not be readily available to these students in their high schools.
These programs typically offer a range of services, including academic tutoring, mentorship, assistance with college applications and financial aid processes, and exposure to college life. Volunteers are the heart of such support, as college access programs aim to increase the number of students who apply to, enroll in, and ultimately graduate from college.
College access programs focus on students who might not otherwise consider higher education. Barriers can be financial or based on a lack of resources or guidance. For instance, first-generation college students may not have the guidance at home necessary to navigate the complex college application process and some schools may not have enough college counselors on staff. College access programs fill this gap by offering expert guidance and resources.
These programs also help to demystify the college experience with campus visits, workshops on college life, and sessions on academic expectations in higher education. These can help students understand what to expect and prepare them for the challenges they might face.
COLLEGE ACCESS PROGRAM BENEFITS
College access programs offer many benefits that directly impact students’ educational journeys and future prospects. The key to a college access program’s meaning is its ability to bridge gaps in educational opportunities, particularly for students from underrepresented or overlooked backgrounds.
These programs offer the primary benefit of academic support like tutoring, study skills workshops, and test preparation, which are essential for students to meet the educational requirements of college admissions. By enhancing their academic skills, students are better prepared for the rigors of college coursework.
College access programs often provide valuable guidance on the college application and financial aid process, including assistance with filling out college applications, writing personal statements, and navigating the complexities of financial aid and scholarships. This guidance is especially helpful for first-generation college students who may not have family members with experience in the college application process.
Mentorship is another key benefit. These programs connect students with mentors who can offer advice, share their experiences, and provide emotional support. Mentorship can be a real source of motivation and encouragement for students as they navigate the challenges of higher education, especially for youth who don’t have role models with college degrees.
College access programs can also demystify the college experience through campus visits and information sessions, where students can get a firsthand look at college life to understand better what to expect and how to thrive in a college environment.
We recently spoke with a few experts on the benefits of such programs and why they’re so crucial for the academic community. 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 experienced in 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 students are unaware of these options, they often assume college is too costly 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 attend college.”
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 boost their academic performance. “CAPs help students plan a curriculum to make them more competitive [in the admissions process]”, says Ma. “For example, high schools in California require just one 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 three years to make them more competitive.”
Traditionally, school counselors might provide this kind of guidance, but college access programs fill in when overworked advisors struggle to get face time with students. “The American School Counselor Association recommends a 250 to one student-to-school counselor ratio,” says Douglas. “At many schools that serve low-income communities, the ratios are 800 to one 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 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 do not represent 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.
THE IMPORTANCE OF A COLLEGE DEGREE
It’s impossible to overstate the value of a college degree in today’s world. A degree opens doors to a wide range of career opportunities and typically leads to higher lifetime earning potential than a high school diploma. Why? Many professions with higher pay scales require at least a bachelor’s degree.
A college education also provides students with critical thinking skills, problem-solving abilities, and a broad knowledge base highly valued in the workplace. These skills apply to specific job tasks and equip individuals with the necessary skills to face challenges in their professional and personal lives.
College access programs like Reality Changers provide high school students with resources and guidance in their college application process. These programs often target students who might not otherwise consider higher education due to financial, social, or cultural barriers.
College access program grants are vital, too. These grants, often funded by governments or private organizations, support the operation of college access programs. They provide financial resources for activities like tutoring, mentorship, college tours, and application assistance, making the dream of higher education more accessible and achievable for underrepresented students.
BOOST THE EFFORTS OF OUR COLLEGE ACCESS PROGRAM NOW
The impact of college access programs is undeniable. However, organizations like Reality Changers depend on community support to provide students with these programs. To get involved and help future college students achieve their dreams, learn more about Reality Changers and how you can make a difference. You can also check out the following resources for more insights into how college access programs benefit students and their communities.