Education / 2013

Increasing Capacity for College Going

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Maker Challenge by Pullias Center for Higher Education

Our primary goal is to increase college attendance throughout the under-served communities of Los Angeles which will have a major impact on improving education in Los Angeles and the state of California. There are thousands of students that attend schools in Los Angeles that are not getting the information they need to help them with the college going process. They have the grades and have taken the required courses but are overwhelmed and confused about the college application process so choose not to attend college or go directly to a community college instead of a four-year institution. Attending a community college is not a bad option but may take students at least 3-4 years to transfer to a four-year college if they ultimately want to receive a Bachelor’s degree. The programs that we offer target first generation, low-income, college-bound seniors from low-performing high schools and assist them with the college-going process. The I AM( Increasing Access via Mentoring) program is a mentoring program that provides assistance with the college choice, college admissions and financial aid processes. The SummerTIME (Tools, Information, Motivation, and Education) program teaches advanced writing and “College Knowledge” (e.g. time management, note-taking, financial literacy) to support participating students' transition to the freshman year. Finally, Collegeology includes games (Application Crunch and Mission: Admission) that teach strategies for navigating the college application process in fun and interactive ways. The first game is a card game, the second is a Facebook Application. In April, we’ll be launching FutureBound, a game targeting middle school students that illustrates the connection between making good decisions in middle school and college/career. We are currently working on a game that fosters financial literacy and knowledge about financial aid options for college. Here’s the challenge: with I AM and SummerTIME, we are limited by resources as to how many students we can serve. With the online games, we need to train teachers and practitioners on how to use the games. The 2050 grant would help us expand the capacity of these programs. We currently work with 11 high schools and serve approximately 300 students but we would like to expand our college-going model so that we can serve a wider student population in Los Angeles. Our programs contain tools that can be replicated on a larger scale so that more students will have the opportunity to be accepted to college and receive a college education. A My LA2050 grant would enable us to train more mentors, implement guidance activities at more schools, expand services offered and ensure college opportunity for a larger number of students.


What are some of your organization’s most important achievements to date?

The Pullias Center for Higher Education is dedicated to improving access to college for low-income and historically under-represented students. The academic arm of our Center has focused on: (1) researching how students, families and schools define and address challenges related to college going and (2) identifying effective strategies for improving college going outcomes. Our publications are widely used as guides by practitioners across the country. Yet just as significant, our Center has developed a three-pronged outreach approach where we work with schools and students to provide high quality college guidance and support; the three programs we run rank among the Center’s most important achievements to date. The first program we developed – I AM (Increasing Access through Mentoring) provides targeted college guidance support to juniors and seniors in high school as they prepare to apply for college. Many of the students we work with will be the first in their families to attend college. Many also attend high schools with exorbitant counselor to student ratios. I AM mentors work with school based counselors to identify students who might slip through the cracks and then meet with students regularly to make sure the (very complicated) college application process goes smoothly. Once students are accepted to colleges, mentors help students figure out financial aid awards and provide students with support as they decide where to go. We’ve helped over 1,000 students get into college since starting the program in 2005. The SummerTIME (Tool Information Motivation Education) program focuses on college completion. We bring students who have graduated from LAUSD schools and who will be heading to four-year colleges/universities to USC for a month-long intensive writing program. The curriculum is infused with lessons on college knowledge such has how to balance finances, how to interact with professors and how to cultivate effective study skills. The third program provides a twist to traditional college outreach approaches. We decided to meet students where they choose to spend after-school hours – in cyberspace! We partnered with USC’s Game Innovation Lab and students from Foshay Learning Center to create a series of role-playing games about college and careers. Our games were developed and pilot tested in Los Angeles and are now utilized nationally. My LA2050 funding would enable us to expand these programs and train practitioners on how to make use of the game-based tools.

Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.

High schools within the Los Angeles Unified School District: Belmont, Crenshaw, Dorsey, Foshay Learning Center, Fremont, Manual Arts, Marshall, Roosevelt, Roybal Learning Center USC Game Innovation Lab Cash for College- Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce National College Access Network Southern California College Access Network College Access Foundation of California Selected businesses - to be determined

Please explain how you will evaluate your project. How will you measure success?

With regards to the effects of the programs on students outcomes, we will measure success by administering surveys to students prior to and post participation in our programs. The surveys will be designed to collect data on the effects of the program on college knowledge and college-going efficacy. We also will conduct selected focus groups with students and practitioners in order to gain a deeper understanding of which practices are working best for students and their teachers and/or counselors. We will also evaluate the project by analyzing the numbers of game players and if/how those numbers increase, thus increasing traction in the project. We will also analyze back-end server data related to the games in order to ascertain the effects of game play on students’ college aspirations and/or plans.

How will your project benefit Los Angeles?

Our project will help improve the college-going rates at high schools that have the lowest college-going rates within the Los Angeles Unified School District. Many students who are eligible for college choose not to attend college because they receive little support on how to navigate the college-going process or lack the information on how to apply. By pairing mentors with high school seniors who are college-eligible, they can successfully guide them through the college application process. The high school graduation rate in California ranks in the bottom half of all U.S. states, with the Los Angeles Unified School District’s own graduation rate well below the state’s, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Budget cuts have severely affected the amount of college counselors at the schools. A shortage of counselors limits the support that students receive regarding the college application process. Traditionally, California students’ access to counselors varies by grade level, and 29 percent of California school districts have no counseling programs at all. The ratio of students per counselor in California averages 945 to 1, compared to the national average of 477 to 1, ranking California last in the nation. In Los Angeles, the average ratio is 800 students to 1 guidance counselor. Many under-resourced schools have guidance counselors, but not dedicated college counselors. Students attending private schools and public schools in affluent parts of the city are afforded very different access to college information and support, often supplemented by parents employing private college counselors to shepherd their children through the complexity of college applications. Thus the gap between those who have access to resources and those who don’t remains stark; the implications for college graduation rates and lifetime earning potential are obvious. By having volunteers serve as mentors, they can alleviate the burden of college counselors having to work with enormous case loads and students can have the one on one interaction needed to understand how to navigate the college admissions and financial aid processes.

What would success look like in the year 2050 regarding your indicator?

Currently California ranks 40th among the states in the rate of high school graduates going directly to college. By 2050, we hope to increase college-going rates by 15-20% by working directly with students who are eligible to attend college but lack the information and guidance to do so. Young adults who delay college attendance also delay the economic and social benefits of higher education, benefits that accrue both to the individuals and to the state which contributes to our economy. In addition, research on college completion shows that students who follow the traditional college enrollment pattern of entering college immediately following high school are more likely to graduate from college. California’s population is expected to grow from 37 million to approximately 60 million by 2050. Since our population will dramatically increase by 2050, it is imperative that we have a college-educated population that will contribute to our economy. We understand that it may not be realistic for every student to receive a college degree but it’s important that they are pointed in a direction that offers as many opportunities as possible and that they learn invaluable skills that are required for long-term and sustainable employment. We would like to expand our programs so that we can serve at least 1,000-2,000 students during the academic year.