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OST college preparation programs close opportunity gaps for students of color

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OST college preparation programs close opportunity gaps for students of color

On June 29, 2023, the United States Supreme Court ended the use of race-based admission policies at higher education institutions. As an advocate for equitable education and a current college student who comes from a background that would qualify me to be a beneficiary of affirmative action, I am concerned about how this decision impacts college attendance for students who come from historically underrepresented communities. With this recent decision in effect, its implications are still being determined.

As Katherine Meyer, a Fellow in the Governance Studies program for the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution, puts it, “…affirmative action is one way to contextualize the opportunities that a student had during their K-12 experience and the disadvantages in access to high-quality teachers and high-quality advisers that they may have had during high school." Additionally, an article from EdBuild further contextualizes the disparities that many school districts face: Poor white school districts receive about $150 less per student than the national average—an injustice all to itself. Yet they are still receiving nearly $1,500 more than poor non-white school districts.” This shows the opportunity gap that exists for far too many students, creating a barrier to higher education.

While many of us collectively struggle with how to continue to account for those disadvantages in the outcome of the decision, it is important to take note of what can still be done. College prep out-of-school time (OST) programs present one available mechanism to help mitigate some of the opportunity and funding gaps earlier in the pipeline. Below you will find more on the importance of these programs to the afterschool ecosystem, insights from the field, and recommendations to help you advocate for equal opportunities in education.

OST closes opportunity gaps

College and career-focused OST programs have helped close opportunity gaps for students before the Supreme Court decision, and its important that they continue to serve students. My journey to college highlights the success of these kinds of programs.

I was introduced to the idea of college and exposed to academia at a very young age. For a good portion of my life, I had access to a library in my family home with books floor to ceiling, but when my aunt moved, all I was left with was the dream of going to college and a school system that wasnt equipped to help make this dream a reality. My first experience with OST college prep came from the Leveraging Educational Assistance Partnership Program (LEAP) afterschool and summer enrichment program at my local library, which exposed me to STEM enrichment and connected me with current college students while I was still in elementary school. This experience kept my curiosity alive, which ultimately led to one of my eighth-grade teachers recommending me for the Women in Natural Sciences (WINS) program at the Academy of Natural Sciences.

After going through a college-like admissions process, I was accepted into WINS, which allowed me to visit more than 30 colleges throughout high school, including Ivy League schools like Brown and Yale University. Aside from our annual college tours, WINS also offered support with crafting my personal statement and connected me with resume-building experiences like my job at the Academy of Natural Sciences.

At the end of my freshman year of high school, I was admitted into the Philly Futures college connections program, and they provided more intense support with access to college prep advisors, college visits, and the marathon—an event where professional writers review our college essay drafts for free. In my senior year, I was selected to participate in a dual enrollment program that was facilitated through my school district and hosted at The Community College of Philadelphia. This program gave me a taste of college-level rigor and allowed me to test-drive the college experience. I also earned half of an associate's degree. Philly Futures continues to support me by providing valuable advice and a book stipend. Without these programs, the seed that my family planted for me to go to college wouldnt have budded, let alone blossomed into the opportunities that college has afforded me today.

Feelings from the Field

The Supreme Court decision only impacts the admissions decision process, which does not stop the mission of programs like Heights, which is committed to student success. Steve Fowler, a partner at FowlerHoffman, conducted an informal survey amongst field leaders asking how they see OST as a pathway to college. Below are a few of the topics covered in the survey responses:

  • Academic enrichment:
    • Assist with writing college essays and completing other parts of the application process
    • Can be a time and space for academics, including credit recovery, credit-for-learning, AP classes, and dual enrollment opportunities
    • Helps build study skills and enhance digital literacy
    • Take students on college tours or bring college admissions and recruiting staff to programs
  • Financial support:
    • Offer financial literacy and planning to help participants and their families navigate the college tuition process and paying for college, including information on scholarship opportunities
    • Offer scholarships and support with finding scholarships
  • Supportive and aspirational community:
    • Programs often celebrate student success in getting accepted to college and encourage program alumni to return as mentors and role models to inspire younger students
    • Connect kids with afterschool staff who are currently attending or have attended college

Advocacy Opportunities

Regardless of where you stand on the Supreme Courts decision, most would agree that college readiness is a skill that all children would benefit from. If you are interested in advocating for OST college preparation programs, here are a few suggestions:

  1. If you are a program provider, join your afterschool network
    1. Joining your afterschool network gives you access to technical support that directly applies to your staff and connects you with other providers doing similar work to ensure affordable and accessible afterschool and summer programs. 
  2. Support national programs like GEAR UP and TRIO
    1. The GEAR UP program is focused on “increasing the postsecondary expectations and readiness of students; (2) improving high school graduation and postsecondary enrollment rates; and (3) raising the knowledge of postsecondary options, preparation, and financing among students and families.”
    2. TRIO operates through various programs, with its most prominent initiative being the upward bound programs that “provide fundamental support to participants in their preparation for college entrance.” To low-income and/or first-generation college students.
  3. Ask your local and state representatives to continue supporting federal education funding and funding for community partners to aid young people on their pathways to college and careers.
    1. As a constituent, you have the right to meet with your representatives or a member of their staff. We have more resources on how to do this.
    2. The Afterschool Alliance has full election toolkit you can utilize.

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