Blog: Caroline Altman Smith

Noodle on this: Just 32 percent of Michigan's working-age residents hold at least a two-year college degree. Gov. Granholm and The Kresge Foundation want to double this figure by 2025. Caroline Altman Smith, a program officer at Kresge, will spotlight community colleges and cover the importance of college access (and success) for Detroiters.

Post 4: Kids With College Dreams Need to "Know How 2 Go"

According to a March 11th article in the Detroit Free Press, only "about 58 percent of students graduate from Detroit Public Schools and 78 percent from charter schools while fewer than 25 percent of those students enroll in college." What?!  Only 1 out of 4 kids in Detroit who successfully emerge from high school with diploma in hand will actually go to college?  Sad but true.  Unfortunately, this widespread lack of educational opportunity and achievement is not unique to our city.  In many major urban school districts, it's shocking how few students complete high school, and how few of those that do will take the next educational step and enroll in college.

When you ask middle-schoolers of all income levels, research shows that almost 90 percent say they want to go to college.  So, we know kids are getting the message that "college is an important key to your future." Yet even with these high aspirations, only a small percentage of those kids will eventually enter higher education.  Why do so few students (especially those who are low-income or students of color) who make it through the trials and tribulations of high school actually enroll in college?

There are a multitude of reasons, including financial barriers and affordability, academic under-preparedness, a lack of high-quality advising and guidance, pressure to work to support the family, etc. Students and their families must navigate a labyrinthine process to get through the doors of post-secondary education: academic requirements, college trips, admission forms, filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form, and negotiating financial aid packages can cause many to get lost along the way.  This process is tricky enough even if you've got a support network of parents and siblings who are college graduates, but much more challenging if no one in your family ever went to college before.

The Ad Council (the folks who brought you such PSA chestnuts as "Friends Don't Let Friends Drive Drunk," and "Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires") developed a major national public awareness campaign called "Know How 2 Go" aimed at helping students and families understand the steps needed to get into college.  The Kresge-funded Michigan College Access Network has secured Michigan's spot as one of the states that will participate in the campaign.  (Stay tuned for billboards, bus station posters, and radio and TV spots in the coming months and years). distills the basic steps middle- and high-schoolers need to take to turn college dreams into reality:

1)   Be a pain (in a good way): Kids should tell everyone they know they want to go to college, and look for adults that will help them get there.

2)   Push yourself: Take the toughest classes their high school offers.  Taking (and passing) rigorous classes in high school is the best predictor of college success.

3)   Find the right fit: Explore colleges that are a good match.

4)   Put your hands on some cash: Apply for financial aid and scholarships to help pay for college.

Students that follow these steps will greatly improve their chances of successfully making it into college. But they need caring adults to help them get there.  One of the key underpinnings of the campaign is that kids need supportive adults in their lives to help them stay on track, and even if a parent or high school guidance counselor can't provide the help they need, kids need to keep searching and asking 'til they find someone willing to help them achieve their goals. Mentoring kids and fostering or strengthening their college dreams, whether it's through a formal program that the Metro Detroit Mentor Collaboration can match you with, or informally in your family, church or neighborhood, goes a long way toward increasing the odds that a kid will stay in school and make that transition from high school to college. Tomorrow I'll talk about what happens when they get there.