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Dispelling the myth that private college is out of reach for all but the well to do, Oregon GEAR UP and The Alliance recently hosted a one-week summer program for rural, low-income students to explore opportunities available at private nonprofit colleges across the state.

Twenty-one current year seniors from nine rural high schools, including two from Woodburn High School, participated at the event hosted at Lewis & Clark College in Portland.

The high school students got a brief taste of college life by staying in Lewis & Clark’s dorms during the week and, during the day, students toured seven campuses and participated in workshops about the college search and application process.

“My biggest takeaway from the camp was I didn’t know how much I didn’t know, but now I’m really well prepared to apply to colleges because the experience was really helpful,” said Kristianna “Kiki” Drum, a senior at Woodburn Arts and Communications Academy.

Drum, 17, said before the camp she didn’t know a lot about private nonprofit colleges other than they are more expensive than state colleges.

“But after going to the camp and visiting all these different colleges around Oregon, I feel I learned a lot more and I’m interested in going to a private college,” she said.

The Oregon GEAR UP program — which stands for Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs — is designed to increase the number of low-income students who are prepared to enter and succeed in college. The Alliance represents and serves private, nonprofit colleges and universities across the state.

“Partnering with organizations such as Oregon GEAR UP allows us to reach promising young people and make an introduction to our member colleges, who offer a supportive, personalized environment where students from all backgrounds can thrive,” said Brent Wilder, vice president of The Alliance.

According to GEAR UP representatives, 95 percent of students have an unchanged or more positive opinion of Oregon’s private colleges after the experience and 100 percent of students said the information they learned on campus tours and info sessions was useful and that the camp was a valuable experience.

Drum said although she hasn’t settled on a major, she liked the liberal arts emphasis of the colleges she visited.

“After going to the camp I found out what a liberal arts college meant,” she said. “It means you get more of a general education about everything rather than specifically focusing on one major. You take a lot of core classes before declaring your major your sophomore year.”

In addition, students learned about other private colleges at a mock college fair and connected with college students who serve as mentors. Drum said interacting with students from the colleges acting as camp counselors was helpful and noted that the counselors offered to keep in touch after the camp to answer questions.

“Everyone there was warm and welcoming to us,” she said. “The admission counselors from all these colleges went out of their way to plan all these activities for us.”

Low-income students are less likely to attend higher education, less likely to attend a four-year college and less-likely to attend an independent college than their higher-income peers. Yet, a study by the Council of Independent Colleges found that students from first-generation and low-income backgrounds routinely experience better outcomes if they attend a smaller private college.

“Our goal is to dispel the myth for our schools and students that private colleges are only for affluent students,” said Adrienne Enriquez, a program manager with Oregon GEAR UP. “Oregon Private College Week Camp helps students ‘find the right fit’ and explore postsecondary options at many different institutions.”

More information about Oregon GEAR UP can be found at and more information about The Alliance can be found at

Larry Coonrod covers all things Woodburn. Contact him at 503-765-1195 or email

Source: Pamplin Media Group