It’s an undeniable fact that the coronavirus epidemic has significantly impacted and complicated our public and higher education systems. Uncertainty hangs over school reopening. College admissions are adapting to a new reality. And our graduating high school seniors are being forced to reimagine their plans for college, career, and life in the midst of unprecedented uncertainty and a faltering economy.
There are lessons that we learned in the recovery from the Great Recession in 2008 that can give us some idea of what the future may hold. The country has become even more economically divided in the last decade, and the fault line has largely been whether an individual received a college education. Those gaps are fueled in part by the fact that those with the most years of college were the last fired in the last recession, and were the first hired in the recovery.
The cost of college is the number one issue for students and parents when considering choices after high school. And according to the latest Gallup poll, just one in four U.S. adults believes an education beyond high school is affordable to anyone in the country who needs it. But we also know that three out of four students who complete the state or federal financial aid applications end up attending college. In contrast, only one out of four students who don’t complete these applications end up enrolling.
In the face of these and other challenges, we want to celebrate the difficult and necessary work that our students, parents, teachers, and administrators continue to perform under these complex circumstances. And make no mistake: that work is still happening day in and day out.
For the past three years, Commit and the Dallas County Promise have worked to promote and expand college access in Dallas County. Currently, the program serves over 21,000 graduating high school seniors in 57 high schools– a group larger than the graduating classes of 17 different US states. And as of last week, 64% of those seniors graduating from participating Promise high schools completed their federal financial aid application (FAFSA).
That’s a completion rate over 10 percentage points higher than the state of Texas as a whole. This growth is led by incredible gains occurring within several local independent school districts, including DeSoto, Lancaster (which grew 6% each), Mesquite, Richardson (which grew 5% each), and Dallas (which grew 3%). Overall, this level of success could not have occurred without the hard work of students, their families, teachers, counselors, and college access providers.
But- as we’ve explored previously- barriers to college access aren’t completely obviated by scholarships and acceptance letters. Finding the means to buy books, housing, and transportation can often prolong or even derail an otherwise successful student’s college journey. And the economic fallout of our current crisis will almost certainly exacerbate these struggles for our neediest students.
That’s why it’s more important than ever for our graduating seniors to have personal and professional mentors to help lead them through this challenging time. If you’d like to help a local high school graduate make the transition to college and career, please consider signing up to become a Promise Champion, or reaching out to your local high school to see how you can help.
In this time of social isolation, what better way to give back than build a supportive (remote) relationship? And when you do, be sure to thank the educators that helped them get where they are today.