In the News

Wilford Shamlin III Tribune Staff Writer | Posted: Thursday, February 12, 2015 11:30 am

Allen Wing has arranged tours of nearly every college campus in Pennsylvania for 256 students from Philadelphia public schools in the last four years.

It’s all part of an effort to coax more students to consider college early. He and Marci Powell-Ford work out of the School District of Philadelphia headquarters as monitors for GEAR UP Philadelphia. They were among 400 people who attended a panel discussion on college readiness and access at the Philadelphia Marriott Downtown this week.

The three-day conference, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education and the National Council for Community and Education Partnerships, opened with remarks by the program’s architect, U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah. GEAR UP, which stands for Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs, awarded more than $301 million in grants to 128 programs, serving 551,000 students across the country.

Wing heard three administrators involved with admissions and enrollment at the University of Pennsylvania, Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, and West Virginia University share strategies, trends and issues in the college admissions process. He said the panelists’ advice affirmed his own recommendation students apply to private-run institutions — including Harvard and Penn — but also small liberal arts colleges, because those institutions often award much larger financial aid packages.

Wing, who graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a master’s degree in 2012, has taken his charges as far south as Howard University in D.C. and visited Ivy League schools such as Yale and Harvard universities. He now works in the school district’s chief academic support office.

Tuesday’s panel discussion was moderated by Nathan Monell, president and CEO for the National Council for Community Education Partnerships. Featured on the panel were: Daniel Lugo, vice president and dean of admission and financial aid, Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster; Eric Furda, dean of admissions for the University of Pennsylvania’s Office of Admissions; and Brenda Thompson, associate vice president for enrollment management for West Virginia University in Morgantown, W. Va.

Thompson called on more families to become versed in financial literacy.

“I felt like this piece has been missing for a number of years, a lot of people struggle on how to finance college education,” she said.

The panelists also encouraged college admissions applicants to avoid filling out forms in a perfunctory manner in order to create an image rather than providing insight into their passions and personal interests, and explaining the reason behind their personal goals.

They also gave tips on how prospective students can truly discern which institutions are committed to enrolled students. They agreed applicants should rely less on statistics and more on information gleaned from interviews with current students. Thompson suggested asking matriculated students whether they have any regrets about attending the institution and whether they’re on a path to complete their degree.

“I think those are valid questions to ask and what you and your counselors should be doing,” she said.

Furda said it’s not advisable for college admissions applicants to fill out forms in a way that creates a portrait because recruiters are more interested in finding out about their passions. Instead applicants should provide details about the type of activities or pursuits they enjoy and would help them become more well-rounded. Recruiters also said students should identify and pursue specific goals that can stretch out for 16 to 20 years and determine the points on that continuum when those goals can be achieved. Lugo said reaching those goals may require small interventions or long-term action plans.

Felecia Jones, who traveled from Selma, Ala., hoped to boost the college matriculation numbers for high school graduates by partnering with higher education institutions that can direct them to resources that can put them on track earlier in their public education. She described Selma as an economically distressed area that was known for producing cotton crops that were hand picked by Black slaves.

She plans to administer GEAR UP funding into programs in conjunction with the University of Alabama, Auburn University and Alabama State University as partners under the Blackbelt Community Organization, which received the grant award.

“I think in just a little bit, we’ll be able to make a really huge difference,” Jones said.

According to AVID, a nonprofit organization dedicated to closing the achievement program and assisting with college readiness and success, GEAR UP helps with outreach to students who are under-represented in the college-going population. Students who participate in programs developed by AVID outpace their peers by 10 percentage points in the college persistence rate, which refers to students who return to their college for the second year.

“That’s really what you want — to teach them strategies to be successful in college,” said Debra Feinberg, senior director of marketing, communications and development for the San Diego-based organization.

Source: The Philadelphia Tribune