Included in the Cleveland Plan for Transforming Schools was the creation of the Cleveland Metropolitan School District Student Advisory Council (SAC). The SAC is comprised of a committee of students from each of CMSD’s 30 high schools representing a cross section of grades and personalities.
Student representatives are brought together quarterly to discuss issues of importance to students such as school climate and standardized testing. Under the Cleveland Plan, each school committee is then required to submit a written report to the principal in the middle of the school year and the principal is required to respond.
On Friday, October 6th, the Student Advisory Council met at Windows on the River to answer the question: What prevents CMSD alumni from enrolling in college?
Nearly 100 students from 16 high schools participated in a discussion led by the Higher Education Compact’s loaned staff member and Cleveland Metropolitan School District staff member Dr. Jason M. Smith, about the importance of college enrollment, the declining rates of college enrollment among CMSD graduates, the barriers that prevent their enrollment, and ways to overcome those barriers.
There were 43 unique reasons why CMSD students suspected their peers did not attend college. These answers included the expected – college costs and academic barriers – as well as less commonly discussed barriers like transportation, gangs, and mental health.
The top three most discussed reasons — a lack of exposure, concerns related to college costs, and feeling or being academically underprepared — were the most cited by a very wide margin. A lack of exposure (as defined as a lack of exposure to college life, college coursework, and career opportunities/career paths) and concerns related to college costs (as defined by references to the need for more money and scholarships) were independently cited 37 times. Feeling or being academically underprepared, as defined by concerns related to low ACT/SAT and GPA, a lack of rigorous coursework, and a limited diversity in offered coursework, was cited 34 times.
Personal stress and family issues – described as needing to take care of a family member, having to deal with adult responsibilities like unemployment and divorce, providing financially, or teen pregnancy – was the next most cited reason.
Lack of support by peers, the student’s family, or teachers was cited 17 times. Tied with 16 citations were fear of the unknown (fear of failing, being the first in their family to go to college, fear of not getting admitted to a particular institutions) and a lack of motivation (some used the word lazy, other said in need of inspiration). Cited 11 times was lack of confidence. Students used the terms “doubt”, “don’t think they are college material”, and “don’t think college is right for them.”
Negative peer pressure was cited 10 times – and was viewed as something that comes from peers, family members and teacher who may not believe college is important or attainable for the student. Rounding out the top ten was the desire to work or earn money immediately and this need outweighing the long- term benefits of a postsecondary degree.
Within the most commonly cited topics were recommendations to address their concerns.
· Students suggested increasing the number of visits to college (specifically overnight trips), more opportunities to shadow students in college to see what college life is really like, and more visits by colleges to high schools, as opposed to “standard college tours” which students felt were not particularly enlightening.
· Students requested more near-peer learning opportunities. They would like CMSD alumni to come back to talk about college. Some also suggested having mentors in high school and college.
· Students asked for more exposure to different types of postsecondary education, including workforce training, online learning opportunities, and more college and career fairs.
· Students asked for more scholarship opportunities, later scholarship deadlines, more full rides, and tuition tax breaks to help pay for college.
· Students asked for additional ACT/SAT prep courses and one group suggested that ACT prep be mandatory.
· Students asked for a greater availability of different types of courses, more rigorous coursework, and more exposure to FAFSA and Naviance earlier in their high school career, especially in 9th and 10th grade.
· Students stated they wanted a better relationship with teachers, teachers that taught more about college, and teachers that were more supportive of their postsecondary goals.
· Students asked that high schools engage with parents on the topic of postsecondary education earlier and more often.
The Higher Education Compact is very appreciative of the information shared by students and will use these findings to influence future Compact led initiatives.