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Helping the College Applicants Who Need It the Most

Where does a high school senior whose parents didn’t go to college turn to understand the application process?

What resources are available to a student from a remote rural area if she wants to apply to college?

These questions and hundreds more like them are the ones I think about every day. While the number of affluent students graduating from college has grown over the years, the figure has been disturbingly stagnant for low-income students, despite billions of dollars and thousands of national and local programs.

For instance, while there’s been a 38 percentage-point increase in the number of college graduates for high-income students since 1970, there’s been a 3 percentage-point increase for low-income students in that same timeframe.

Nine percent of young adults from the bottom quartile of family incomes obtain a bachelor’s degree by the age of 24.

According to a recent study, 51 percent of Pell grant recipients enrolled in four-year nonprofit institutions nationwide graduate from college.

The rate is higher at Swarthmore. However, the solutions need to be bigger than one institution.

In recent years, college access summits have been used around the country to reach out to underserved students and communities.

In June, Swarthmore gathered high school guidance counselors, community-based organizers and college admissions officers to also host a summit. We worked side-by-side to support these groups in a team effort to improve higher-education access.

At the summit hosted by Swarthmore, the college asked participants to collaborate and develop presentations on areas of the greatest interest to them, and the students they hope to support and recruit.

Sessions included topics such as the “good, the bad and the ugly” in financial aid award letters. The central discussion point in this session was how difficult these letters are for students to interpret and therefore, act on.

I have a doctorate in higher education and have worked in this field for a better part of a decade, and they even stump me.

Other sessions covered topics like the unique challenges that first-generation college students face, to helping prepare students for transferring to four-year institutions, to the power of the college essay.

“When we can harness our collective knowledge and best practices and have a space to share, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel,” said co-presenter Kaitlin Irvin, a college access and success manager for Summer Search Philadelphia.

“We can therefore work smarter, not harder, which means we can more effectively serve our students,” Irvin added.

There’s a very long way to go, but gatherings like these will only serve to bring deserving students to colleges across the country.

With today’s climate, the chance for bright and determined students to get a college education only gets harder.

Let’s all do our part to make sure the next generation graduates and thrives.

Dr. Andrew Moe is associate dean of admissions and director of access at Swarthmore College. This article originally was published by the Hechinger Report.

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