Cheyney University Blog

Successful Transition to College - It Takes a Village

September 02, 2009

First of all, if we believe the premise that the higher education of a wide range of Americans is necessary to secure our future well-being as a country and competitive economic power, then anything is possible including designing a smoother transition to college and furnishing financial resources for youth who cannot afford to attend college without such resources.

Recently, I have been reading about some of the factors that affect the transition of students of color, and first generation students, into college and their overall progression towards graduation. Of course, one of the reasons I am studying this body of literature is because we want to identify best overall practices to help increase the number of college-going students in the Philadelphia region and the Commonwealth. The Thurgood Marshall College Fund is also interested in this topic and is accepting proposals from scholars who want to conduct more research on the factors that influence retention and graduation rates at Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

My two years here at Cheyney University, and my thirty years of service in seven other institutions including Chicago State University, Winston-Salem State University, and two community colleges, suggest to me that more pre-college planning and entrée to appropriate financial resources is paramount to providing access to higher education for students from average and less-advantaged households. Pre-college planning is very important since the entrée to scholarships and financial resources is also linked to a student’s performance on SAT and ACT tests. When our youth are in their early high school years, it is essential that we develop a wide range of proficiencies in all students and keep these students on our radar for further knowledge and skill development in college.

Observing the enrollment management processes at Cheyney University has illuminated for me that providing access to college opportunities has at least two significant phases. The first phase needs to happen long before students arrive on campus for orientation and enrollment processes. In fact, the transition to college needs to begin by the student’s second year in high school and earlier than that might be desirable depending on the student’s career goals. In starting the transition to college, it seems critical that all educational professionals and support personnel have high expectations for our youth and begin the conversation about college with each child they encounter. An expectation about lifelong learning and achievement can be built into each lesson plan, lecture, casual conversation, and extracurricular activity. These expectations and conversations will send important messages to students about succeeding at higher levels of learning.

When students and their parents explore college in this first phase, families should learn as much as possible about the cost of a college education, options for paying for a college education (grants, scholarships, tuition reimbursement, work study, etc.), and the timeliness necessary to be ready to apply for financial aid (scholarships, grants, and loans) from particular institutions, banks, and agencies. The exploration of college options should, moreover, lead to a strategy for performing well on college entrance exams, which tend to determine who is eligible for scholarships at a specific university. Students who come from families with more resources tend to take SAT/ACT test preparation courses and the exams several times to attain a “best score.”

So without a doubt, phase one of accessing the opportunities of a college education and financing a college education involves the entire family of a student. As a parent who currently has a daughter in college with aspirations to attend law school, I can personally attest to the angst involved in paying for college. Each family has to discuss its resources and how these resources will be employed to help defray the student’s college tuition and other expenses. The family also must be made aware of the need to act in a timely manner to complete financial aid forms, loan applications, and the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FASFA). The first step for completing the FASFA is to “get organized” (by gathering income/tax documents).

Some of us in higher education take for granted that students will go online and complete the FASFA six months before arriving on campus; however, my experience suggests this is true for maybe 50 percent of the students who arrive on campus. So, what do we do to help expand access to college opportunities? It seems that colleges and universities need the help of other organizations who will also guide families to “get organized,” so that the student can have a successful transition into college. This is where the Village comes in. There are numerous pre-college organizations and agencies that will work with students during their high school years to help them prepare for the college entrance exams, select an appropriate college, and work with the family to organize and plan for paying for college.

At Cheyney University, we will expand our efforts to partner with these organizations to help families organize and plan for the transition to college. PHEAA (PA State Grant Applications), INROADS, Project Grad, Gear Up, CORE Philly, Upward Bound, and the Chester County Higher Education Network, are just a few of the organizations and agencies that are there to help families. Additionally, many churches have also developed social ministries that include furnishing scholarships for students to attend college.

Once students arrive on a college campus with a clearer vision of their goals, and completed FAFSA’s, scholarships, and other plans for paying for college, the second phase begins. The second phase might be where the real work begins; it involves helping students to understand their responsibilities to maintain their grades, to progress towards a major in a timely manner, and to continue to stay organized regarding how they will continue to finance their college education. This might mean registering early and keeping apprised of changes in federal financial aid policies and working with campus advisors.

The second phase of helping students to stay organized must involve the University’s faculty and staff who are needed to help retain students by reminding students of actions needed to maintain their college status and their financial aid status. Faculty are especially essential for exposing students to an array of disciplines, opportunities, passions, and paths to encourage pursuit of a purposeful life.

When you think about it, the Village will only benefit from a highly-proficient, talented, and educated citizenry and workforce. We can all rest a little easier in knowing that we are preparing a better future for America.

Tags: college , transition

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COMMENTS

Dr. Howard-Vital: Project GRAD is very excited about the potential collaboration of creating a Kindergarten through college graduation pipeline with Cheyney University. GRAD values quality education for all and access for all. We stand with Cheyney and other higher education institutions that encourage academic excellence. Thomas Butler, Executive Director Project GRAD Philadelphia Cheyney University, Class of 1986
Thomas Butler 5:35PM 09/07/09
Good morning, Dr. Vital. It is so very interesting that you sent this email to me this morning. Last night I attended my first grad studies class at Temple University. I am going there to obtain my Master of Liberal Arts. When I was trying to decided whether or not I was going to go back to graduate school, I thought of what I wanted to do that would not only expand my knowledge but also what I felt very passionately about. I have always been passionate about helping Black students to be more “prepared”. Often times I think when they are in high school, students are told that they will get everything they need if they just “get good grades”. So the student strives for good grades and then when it’s time to go to college and make that transition, they are not prepared and often times very afraid. I know this because I felt that fear. I was the first in three generations of my family to go to college. My mother was disabled and I was not only trying to go to college but I was also taking care of a mother who was blind and had Multiple Sclerosis. I felt, during my time at Cheyney, that I didn’t “deserve to be in college” because my responsibility was to my mother. Of course, my mother squashed that “crazy thinking” immediately! ? I also know of students who, because of the fact that they were not familiar or made aware of “the transition”, dropped out of college or simply didn’t go because they felt “out of place” or felt as though they “didn’t belong”. In graduate school, I want to study that and make it my mission to try and help those students. At Comcast, I often get the opportunity to have Black student interns. Most of them are in college already but every once in a while, I get a high school intern and I thoroughly enjoy getting the opportunity to “prepare” them as much as I can. When I was at Cheyney, my graduating class was called “The Talented Tenth”. I believe that we are supposed to help each other. I believe in our “linked fate”. As my mom used to say “children are a reflection of us”. Ky’a Jackson Cheyney University Alum, Class of 1994
Ky’a Jackson 5:34PM 09/03/09

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