By Kita L. Graham

Going to college immediately after high school or within a few years may seem like a gradual progression for many.  For underserved students, especially ones who live in poverty, the dream of attending college is far from gradual.  Unfortunately, these students face immediate challenges like securing food, shelter, childcare and transportation – rather than establishing long term needs.

Many underserved students work part-time jobs to support their current needs – leaving little room for setting long-term goals.  Underserved students don’t always know what great resources are available to them, especially if they attend a community college. For instance, many often qualify for financial aid, TRIO programs and childcare assistance, which makes attending college highly possible.

Underserved students can apply these strategies to create seamless pathways to higher education.

  1. Motivation –

Create a vision and determine what steps are needed to make it happen. Students usually have special interests, but don’t always think beyond the ‘now.’ Planning ahead inspires goal setting and strategic thinking.  It’s also important for students to surround themselves with people who support their goals and dreams.

  1. Research

Discover how the vision can be translated into a career – ultimately selecting an appropriate major. This means reading the institution’s website to learn about admission requirements, tuition costs, academic programs and transfer agreements.  Campus tours are a great way to discover the culture of the college. Completing a free career assessment can be a helpful resource.

  1. Patience

Completing the enrollment steps may not always move as fast as a prospective student expects. Tidewater Community College’s concise enrollment steps guides them through the process.  A number of factors may impact the overall pace.  For example, transcripts, tax forms, proof of residency and guardianship are often required during the enrollment phase. This is usually where students become frustrated and easily give up on attending college.

  1. Follow-through

The majority of enrollment steps are completed electronically, but still require action from the prospective student. Having updated contact information, a working telephone number and computer access all help make the enrollment process efficient.  Most communities have these free resources at Workforce Development agencies to support job and school matters.

  1. Persistence

As the saying goes, “there’s nothing to it but to do it!” Hopefully, the momentum gained during the enrollment process will continue throughout the student’s academic career – for successful program completion.

Effective recruitment by clearly highlighting academic programs and requirements can motivate prospective students. Conducting substantial research of target populations is helpful when determining outreach efforts.  For example, find out how what their post-graduation goals are early, connect with high school students during their junior year.  Patience may be the most challenging as institutions race to enroll students by crucial tuition and fee payment deadlines.  Therefore, implementing proactive follow-through stages with students give staff time to address enrollment barriers rather sooner than later.  Otherwise, time-sensitive information may not be provided in time which may impact enrollment numbers. Persistence is equally important for students and community college staff members.  Colleges must stay ‘on-the-heels’ of students.  This may mean calling students after they’ve applied, ask if they applied for financial aid, or taken the placement test.

Community colleges should mirror the same strategies as underserved students.  During a time when both non-profit and for-profit institutions are aggressively competing for students, community colleges is where many of them belong and will flourish.  Open access, affordability, retention-based programs, and student support services are a perfect combination for attracting and retaining underserved students.  Limited staff, time and budget constraints are common barriers for institutions to offer population-specific recruitment models.  Innovation is an important factor when recruiting undeserved students.  Approaching new strategies that will ultimately ‘seal-the-deal’ requires collaborative and are worth the effort.  How does your campus connect with underserved students? What programs exist? How are they marketed? Are they being utilized? What can you do to assist?

Kita L. Graham is a High School Career Coach and Student Development Instructor at Tidewater Community College in Norfolk, VA. She holds a Master’s degree in Organizational Leadership, Higher Education from Regent University and a Bachelor’s degree in Communications from Middle Tennessee State University.  Kita can be contacted at klgraham@tcc.edu. Picture from Student Dream – training under-served college students to launch earth-shattering startups.

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