Forget "access" and "admission." Today’s high-school counselors and admissions officers should think in terms of "completion" and "attainment" when dealing with students, especially black males and other underrepresented students.
That was the consensus among those who attended an intriguing session here on Monday at the Potomac & Chesapeake Association for College Admission Counseling’s annual conference. When working with underrepresented students, high-school counselors and deans alike must not think of matriculation as the "end" of the admissions process, said Carl Ahlgren, director of college counseling at the Gilman School, in Baltimore.
Mr. Ahlgren offered a description of a "transitional counseling" model, in which the conclusion is understood to come four to six years after a student enrolls at college. This differs, of course, from the traditional counseling model, in which the ultimate goal is admissions, and families typically have high aspirations and vague notions of institutional prestige.
In that model, the counselor’s job is basically done as soon as Mom and Dad slap that coveted college sticker on their car. “For them, success is admission in the face of ambition,” Mr. Ahlgren said.
Students from underrepresented families are in a much different situation, however. They are often uninformed and unambitious. Mr. Ahlgren has found that while white, affluent applicants often need to lower their expectations about which colleges they can attend, the opposite is true for underprivileged applicants. “Instead of talking those students down, we need to talk them up,” he said. After all, when “at risk” students enroll at colleges for which they are overqualified, they are less likely to graduate.
Some speakers described the need for more hands-on admissions officers, who can communicate regularly with students after they enroll—all in the name of retention. Darryl Jones, senior associate director of admissions at Gettysburg College, in Pennsylvania, considers his institution’s minority graduation rates a point of pride, as well as a crucial responsibility of his department.
Recently, he spoke to a prospective student who was considering a college with a lower graduation rate that had offered him more financial aid than Gettysburg had. “Hey,” Mr. Jones said, “do you want to graduate or just go to college?”
Mr. Jones urged his colleagues to work more closely with other campus offices, such as financial aid and multicultural affairs.” Make it your business to create space where you can be part of retention,” he said. “Your institution depends on it.”
Shameek Robinson, statewide network coordinator for the National College Access Network, said admissions officers can do much to help ease students’ transition to college. How? By linking them up with campus services, by checking in with academic deans, or just by contacting them from time to time.
“When you’re in trouble, you want a familiar face,” Mr. Robinson said, “and if you don’t have that, it’s going to be a problem.”