While one or two dedicated individuals can do a lot to increase awareness of an issue, true cultural change can’t happen until you establish critical mass. The Mobilization level is where we begin to build the broader support and engagement needed to drive and sustain meaningful change. And the best place to start is with those audiences at the center of your school community: educators, students, and families. These groups are typically the best — and most impactful — advocates to support a college-going culture.
To reach them, you’ll need to get clear on your goals and develop a strategic outreach plan. One way to begin is to consider the “6 Basic Questions”: Who, What, Where, When, Why, How?
- Who: Who does this issue affect most? Who can help you make the largest impact?
- What: What are you asking them to do or support? What do you want to achieve?
- Where: Where can you reach or connect with them?
- When: When is the best time to reach them? For example, when is the best time to talk about exploring colleges vs. applying to colleges?
- Why: Why does this matter to them?
- How: How do you plan to achieve your goals? What action(s) do you want others to take?
For school communities at the Mobilization stage, we recommend focusing on two goals:
- Collaboration: Encouraging educators, students, and families to collaborate to build and strengthen a college-going culture
- Integration: Integrating college-planning and awareness initiatives into the day-to-day work and activities of your school community
Goal 1: Collaboration
To encourage collaboration among educators, students, and families, we recommend three strategies: 1) providing professional development for educators, 2) empowering students, and 3) building strong school/family partnerships.
There are a myriad of resources available to assist you in providing professional development opportunities related to postsecondary access and success. Finding the time and resources to offer these opportunities is often the greater challenge. One of the most important factors is securing buy-in and support from your building and district administrators and leaders.
One tactic is to keep it short. It may be difficult to convince leadership to devote an entire day to training, but they may allow you half an hour or an hour to conduct mini workshops during in-service days or faculty meetings. The Discussion Guides included in this toolkit are designed for these short-form training sessions.
If you are asking your administrators and colleagues to commit to a longer-term training event or course, try to ensure that continuing education credits will be offered. And it’s even better if you can find a sponsorship or grant program to fund travel expenses, the cost of a substitute teacher, or stipends.
We’ve listed below some great sources of professional development related to college access and success:
- Prichard Committee: A group that provides numerous in-depth resources and training programs for facilitating stronger school/family engagement
- National College Attainment Network (NCAN): A group providing college readiness and success resources and training.
- National Council for Community and Education Partnerships (NCCEP): A group providing college readiness and success resources and training as well as support for GEAR UP programs across the country.
- Study Lab: Online professional development courses provided by NCCEP related to college access and readiness issues
- West Virginia Student Success Summit: An annual conference convening educators and partners from across the Pre-K through postsecondary continuum.
Students are often THE best advocates for supporting a college-going culture, not only because they are likely to be a strong influence on their peers but also because they bring a passion and enthusiasm to the cause. A great deal of research has shown that Gen Z, or the generation of students born between 1995 and 2010, is motivated by having a higher purpose — particularly when it comes to making the world more inclusive, just, and fair. The mission of helping ALL students (particularly underrepresented groups like first-generation, low-income, and minority students) is likely to resonate deeply with them.
You may want to create a student club or organization devoted specifically to this mission. Groups like “HEROs” or “Higher Education Readiness Officers” have proven successful in West Virginia schools in the past. Or you could enlist existing student clubs or organizations and ask them to devote some of their time and attention to supporting college access.
How to better engage parents and family members has been the source of much consternation for schools (particularly high schools) for decades. But it can be particularly challenging when you’re attempting to engage families from underserved populations. Individuals from these groups face numerous barriers when it comes to getting involved in their students’ education, including:
- Lack of time and resources
- Unpleasant or negative personal experiences with the education system
- Lack of confidence in helping their children navigate the often unfamiliar territory of postsecondary education
To overcome these obstacles, schools must go above and beyond to make families feel welcome. Adding signs, language, or other visual cues to school settings or materials explicitly inviting families can help. But, often, success in this area requires a more personal touch.
Making personal phone calls inviting family members to school events, reaching out to families in settings where they feel safe (such as church), and reminding families that their support and encouragement is of real value to the school community are all effective tactics. The Family Engagement Toolkit provided by the GEAR UP program at Appalachian State University is a great resource, as is Oregon GEAR UP’s Parent Engagement Toolkit. Kentucky’s Prichard Committee also offers numerous valuable resources including a certificate program to help educators master best practices in family engagement.
Goal 2: Integration
To more fully integrate college readiness and planning efforts into the day-to-day activities of your school, we recommend two strategies:: 1) launching collaborative co-curricular programs and initiatives and 2) integrating college planning and awareness into your school’s academic curriculum.
Co-Curricular Programs and Initiatives
When it comes to developing co-curricular programs and initiatives, West Virginia schools are fortunate to have strong leadership and support from the College Foundation of West Virginia or CFWV. Each year, CFWV provides guidance and complete implementation guides for three major college-focused co-curricular programs: College Application and Exploration Week, the FAFSA Completion Campaign, and College Decision Day. Schools that participate in these three milestone events can even apply for recognition as a Champion of College Access and Success.
These efforts are most successful when you get the entire school community involved. Comprehensive Implementation Guides for all three events are included within this toolkit.
Providing college visits for students can go a long way toward helping them become more comfortable on a college campus. And, for students who may have limited transportation or financial resources, school-organized college visits may be their best opportunity for completing this crucial step in the college exploration and planning process. A complete guide to coordinating a college visit is included in the Implementation Guides section of this toolkit.
If in-person visits simply aren’t feasible for your school, you may want to set aside time for “virtual visit” activities. Virtual options include:
Integration Within the Academic Curriculum
Integrating college planning and awareness content within your academic curriculum is a great way to achieve multiple goals at once. And there are many creative ways to do so. Check out the “Tactics” section below for ideas.
Additionally, partnering with colleges and universities to offer dual enrollment courses can help students get a sense of the academic demands of college while earning college credits while in high school.
The following are practical, actionable ideas you can use to increase awareness in your school community:
Goal 1: Collaboration
- Launch a school club focused on college access and success
- Ask an existing school club to make college access and success a focus of their work
- Ask all teachers to include visual cues to encourage discussions about their college experience with their students. Examples include posting information about their alma mater or hanging copies of their college degree.
- Collect photos of teachers and school staff from when they were in college. Make an analog “Facebook” by posting the pictures on a bulletin board. Include facts about the colleges they attended.
- Host a college-themed door decorating contest among home rooms. Choose judges to select a winning door and offer the homeroom that created it a prize.
- Encourage members of student media organizations such as newspapers or TV stations to do stories or segments on college-focused issues. Interviewing teachers, family members, or community representatives about their college experience can make for a great story.
- Coordinate a college visit for each grade level. A complete guide to organizing a college visit is included in the Implementation Guides section of this toolkit.
- During college visits, make sure to take a photo of each student on a college campus. Print copies for the students to take home, and, with their permission, post copies on a school bulletin board or the school’s social media pages.
- Include parents and guardians on college tours.
- Research summer programs focusing on academic or career exploration. Promote these events and programs heavily in your school. Personally encourage students to apply — particularly those who may need an extra nudge or are at risk of being overlooked.
- Encourage school clubs to create college-planning bulletin boards to be displayed in local elementary and middle schools.
- At graduation time, have students do a “grad walk” wearing their caps and gowns through the hallways of the elementary and middle schools they attended.
- At graduation time, work with feeder elementary and middle schools to create bulletin boards featuring graduates from that school. Include their postsecondary plans.
- Provide teachers and staff with professional development on how to write compelling letters of recommendation.
- Create a committee for postsecondary access and success as part of the PTA/PTO.
- Create a Family Council for College Success led by parents and other family members. Ask them to find ways to support a college-going culture in your school and consult them for input when making decisions regarding the school.
- Host school activities and college planning workshops at various time frames to accommodate parents’ and families’ diverse schedules. For example, some parents may be able to attend meetings before school, whereas others may need evening windows.
- During parent and family meetings or events, provide activities to engage students’ younger siblings.
- Check to see if colleges in your region have TRIO programs. Reach out to TRIO program leaders to discuss opportunities for collaboration.
- Make sure your school offers clubs that focus on academic exploration in addition to leadership, service, and athletics.
- Create a staff newsletter for teachers and personnel. In each edition, share one of the ideas listed in this toolkit.
- Work with a school staff member or a trusted student to build out a college-focused social media campaign on your school’s social channels. The Templates section of this toolkit includes social media graphics as well as a 90-day sample calendar of posts.
Goal 2: Integration
- As a class project, take a special item (such as a school pennant or sign) and send it on a cross-country college road trip. Start by choosing three or four colleges in various regions across the U.S. Mail the item to their admissions staff along with a letter, asking them to take a picture with the item and email it back to your class. Then ask that they kindly forward the item onto another college, and so on. As emails come in, take time to learn about each of the colleges the item visits.
- As part of a class assignment, ask students to write a persuasive letter to a college admissions office requesting information and/or gear. Make sure each student is assigned a different college.
- Partner with faculty at local colleges to provide “guest lectures” at your school or in organizing a field trip.
- Ask students to interview someone who completed some form of postsecondary education. Then have them write an essay about that person’s experience. Encourage students to think beyond the traditional four-year degree when choosing their interview subjects.
- Watch an admissions video in class. Ask students to journal their impressions and develop questions they might ask the admissions office for that school. The West Virginia College Road Trip and The Amazon Prime College Tour websites are great resources for finding video segments.
- Ask students to research a college, university, or postsecondary program and create an admissions video or webpage for it.
- Go to the West Virginia College Road Trip website and have students complete the Scavenger Hunt and College Trivia activities for each college.
- Participate in West Virginia’s annual College Application and Exploration Week initiative. A complete Guide to Hosting College Application and Exploration Week is included in the Implementation Guides section of this toolkit.
- In junior and senior English classes, practice writing essays for college and financial aid applications.
- Use the CFWV English Curriculum guide to incorporate college-planning resources available on CFWV.com within your school’s English and Literature curriculum.
- Incorporate college facts within learning vignettes, scenarios, or problems. For example, you might create a math question that reads: If seven percent of students at West Virginia University are in the School of Engineering and WVU has 29,933 students, how many engineering students are there?
- Ask the art, design, or media department to work with students to develop a college-themed coloring or activity book for elementary school students.
- Ask the art/design and English departments to collaborate to create a college-themed children’s book.
- As a field trip, visit the radio or TV station of a local college and do a show.
- In math class, ask students to create budgets for life as a college student. Make sure they incorporate expenses such as food, housing, tuition, fees, and books and resources such as scholarships, grants, and loans.
- In English class, ask students to write a letter from their future selves describing their college experience.
- When discussing historical or public figures, offer students extra credit to research and discuss or write about the college or training programs the person completed.
- Look at essay questions included in past years on the Common App or on applications for elite schools and programs. Use these as prompts for essay assignments in class.
To effectively evaluate your efforts, be sure to tailor your measures and key performance indicators (KPIs) to your community’s specific goals and objectives. The Workbook (Download MS Word or PDF) that accompanies this toolkit offers detailed guidance on this process.
Additionally, to help you think through your evaluation strategy, we have listed below some outcomes to aim for when striving to mobilize your school community.
- At least one professional development opportunity focusing on college access and success issues is offered to teachers, counselors, and administrators in your school each school year.
- College-related materials and messaging is visible in the majority of classrooms, hallways, and common areas within your school.
- Each year, your school is participating in the three milestone events required to be recognized as a Champion of College Access and Success: 1) College Application and Exploration Week, 2) the FAFSA Completion Campaign, and 3) College Decision Day.
- Most departments at your school have identified and implemented ways to integrate college information and planning into their academic curriculum.
- Your school coordinates at least one college visit per grade level each school year.
- A formalized group of parents and family members focused on college access and success issues exist either in the form of a committee of an existing organization or a separate organization focused exclusively on college readiness issues.
- At least one student group at your school has committed to and undertaken initiatives focusing on college access and success issues.
- Numerous students from low-income, minority, and first-generation college families are helping lead college access and success initiatives.
- Parents and family members from low-income, first generation college, and minority groups report feeling welcomed and valued at your school.
- Students can clearly articulate why postsecondary attainment is important and believe that all of their peers are capable of achieving postsecondary success.
Amazon Prime College Tour: A streaming TV series featuring information about colleges and universities across the country.
CFWV English Curriculum: A curriculum guide for integrating college-planning resources into English classes.
Champion of College Access and Success: A designation to recognize schools in West Virginia that are committed to students’ postsecondary success.
College Application and Exploration Week: A statewide program to help elementary, middle, and high schools increase awareness of postsecondary opportunities.
College Decision Day: A statewide program to celebrate students who choose to pursue some form of postsecondary education.
FAFSA Completion Campaign: A toolkit of resources to increase FAFSA completion rates, tailored for West Virginia students.
Family Engagement Toolkit: A toolkit provided by Appalachian State GEAR UP
Parent Engagement Toolkit: A toolkit provided by Oregon GEAR UP
Prichard Committee: A group that provides numerous in-depth resources and training programs for facilitating stronger school/family engagement
National Association of Secondary School Principals College Access Guide: A guide for principals for supporting college access and readiness
National College Attainment Network (NCAN): A group providing college readiness and success resources and training.
National Council for Community and Education Partnerships (NCCEP): A group providing college readiness and success resources and training as well as support for GEAR UP programs across the country.
Study Lab: Online professional development courses provided by NCCEP related to college access and readiness issues
True Gen: Generation Z and Its Implications for Companies: A report by McKinsey on the characteristics of Gen Z
West Virginia College Road Trip: A website featuring virtual tours, videos, and interactive activities to help students explore colleges in West Virginia.
West Virginia Student ‘HEROs’ Inspiring Their Peers to Reach Higher: An article about a college-access-focused youth group formed in West Virginia
West Virginia Student Success Summit: An annual conference convening educators and partners from across the Pre-K through postsecondary continuum.YouVisit: A website housing virtual tours for numerous colleges and universities across the country.