GSE Students Author Policy to Reduce Barriers for College Access and Preparedness for NJ School Students
What began as a final project for Dr. Steven Barnett’s Education Policy and Policy Making course has turned into a real education program proposal submitted by students in the course. Kayla Crawley, Christine Cheuk, Anam Mansoor, Stephanie M. Perez, and Elizabeth Park authored the proposal for the College Access and Readiness Community Network (CARCN).
How did this final paper become a potential program? Crawley says, “After learning about the final project, we asked Dr. Barnett if we could collaborate and do a group paper. He was okay with that but said that we had to up the stakes a little bit and think about a policy that we would actually want to see in reality.” This project would eventually become CARCN, which would be presented before a panel of policy experts to evaluate its feasibility and promise. This idea grew out of the student’s reading of Dr. Olcay Yavuz’s Ed.D. dissertation at the GSE. “[The] paper talked about college access for low-income populations, and how the lack of social capital was something that was a big barrier for college access and preparedness,” Crawley continues. The group would eventually expand on that paper for their project and develop a program they wanted to test out in the real world.
The main goal CARCN is to build social capital for students and their families that will increase access to higher education for underrepresented groups. One way that the program plans on doing this is by capitalizing on the multitude of relationships that these students have around them. Research shows that peer relationships, peer-mentor relationships, and parent/family relationships all play a major role in college access. The program’s objective is to bring these together to create a more well-rounded support network to help prepare students for college and succeed once they get there. “We want to build upon what high schools are already doing in terms of college preparation. Hopefully, the program will increase access and retention for low-income students,” Perez said.
The CARCN program looks to use social media as a tool to boost participation since social media is a big aspect of high school student’s lives. “When brainstorming on this project, we focused on the importance of connections and the ability to create sustainable relationships with college students that high school students could benefit from and gain important social capital from- rather than depending upon single interactions with new faces or having to search information on the internet. The advantage of social media is above all, the ability to stay connected and sustain relationships long term, regardless of the amount of face-to-face interaction that occurs,” Mansoor states. The hope is that creating this social media platform to support college attendance would allow high school students and their families to communicate with mentors and peers to foster a stronger and more consistent relationship. The plan is to structure communication around particular topics such as financial aid and placement testing, outlined in the curriculum of the program, but the informal nature of social media also allows participants to reach out regarding individual questions.
The program still stands in the early stages of conceptualization. Over the summer, the group has been working with Christine Cheuk to rewrite the proposal as a policy paper for publication Journal of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies giving them the benefit of the peer-review process. They have also been identifying specific schools districts where they can pitch the CARCN idea.
The program’s ability to get buy-in from different stakeholders within schools is considered the most critical first step. Getting guidance counselors on board may be the program’s biggest challenge, as the ratio of students to counselors at the average New Jersey high school is 250:1. This large workload may be a deterrent to a pilot of the program. Part of CARCN’s appeal is the potential to amplify the efforts of counselors currently face big challenges trying to prepare so many students. “We hope to pilot this program in schools districts to reduce the workload for guidance counselors when helping students in college preparation and build collective support from school administrators and faculty for implementing and sustaining this program for long-term.,” Cheuk said.
The program’s hopes to have a potent impact by empowering communities striving to improve their students’ college readiness. “We are hoping that this program can provide opportunities for parents, alumni mentors, and students to have control over their future and destiny. I think that involving their already rich and diverse networks provides more ownership in the process and levels the playing field,” Crawley explains. The program can also provide better inform high school students and their families of what to expect in the college application process.
In the next five years, the goal is to begin piloting the program with local school districts who see the value of providing these resources to their students. Crawley believes that it would be great if the group could also connect with administrators in New Jersey to help improve the system more broadly, including those with college preparedness programs at colleges, the New Jersey Department of Education, and county superintendents for county-wide adoption of the program. The most important aspect of this program’s implementation is that it allows these communities to take advantage of the wealth of information already available to help them. Perez says, “We do not see these communities as lacking social capital, but we do realize that in the current system, building on the capital that does exist is difficult. CARCN provides a way to connect those who have the knowledge and experience to the students and families who need it.”