Education Department Expands Web Site to Promote College-going Culture

Soon, aspiring college students will use a federal Web site to share their goals and dreams for higher education.

The Department of Education (DoE) plans to expand its College.gov Web site to allow students to create and write messages about why they want go to college.

The Education department posted the Web site May 25 on a trial basis, planning an official rollout later this month with a promotional blitz in late fall and winter.

The site provides information and resources about planning, preparing and paying for higher education. College.gov aims to encourage high schoolers, especially those from underrepresented groups, to prepare for college.

“We focus on students who are first generation, English-as-a-second language, low-income (and) those who didn’t have an adult in their life,” explains Vickie Schray, deputy assistant secretary for higher education.

Registered users will be able to upload a photo and an “I’m Going” statement about why they want to attend college. They can link their message to Facebook profiles or other Web sites and send them to others. Students in focus groups said they wanted to hear from others in similar situations.

College.gov has learned some lessons itself during the trial run. “We told people to talk to their counselor. Some schools didn’t have a counselor or had one per 800 kids. So we referred them to other resources,” Schray says.

The department also hopes eventually to send users who sign up for it e-mails about application and financial aid processes. It could tailor messages by grade level, reminding students what class they need to take or to complete their financial aid or college application. It may also send messages about new resources or updates to the site.

Already, users can take a financial aid quiz and download posters giving them a map to college that they can personalize by naming their own reasons for attending college, their “dream school,” etc.

“The way this site differs from anything else I’ve seen from the department in the last five to 10 years is that it is intended to be more of an attention grabber with some concrete steps on how to take action,” notes David Hawkins, director of public policy and research at the National Association for College Admissions Counseling.

Hawkins praises the site for bringing together information students previously had to hunt for.

But Hawkins adds “the site may fall victim to some of the same misconceptions about the college process … in the media and popular culture. It says standardized tests can be taken two or three times. But how many low-income students can afford to register for the tests two or three times? … .It doesn’t say that not all colleges require standardized tests.” (College.gov learned to refer people to assistance for the fees.)

“The idea is to get the message out in fliers and into the media,” Hawkins says. “If students don’t have access to discover this in the first place, they might receive a flier or see a TV or radio ad” and access the Internet at school or a public place such as a library.

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