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State plans outreach for low-income high schoolers

2014-02-20

Already lauded for their efforts to fund higher education, members of this state’s legislature are looking to further help lower-income students gain access to college degrees.

A bill in both the state’s House of Delegates and Senate would create the “College Admissions Outreach Program for High–Achieving Students.” The program would work with the state’s Higher Education Commission and Department of Higher Education as well as other higher education officials to provide college financial and admissions information more openly to lower-income students.

Eligible students would include seniors in a state high school who are academically high-achieving and qualify for the state’s “Guaranteed Access Grant” — a program that covers the full financial need of students living below the poverty level.

While it is unclear exactly how the information will be administered and what it will include, the House bill’s co-sponsor Del. Kirill Reznik (D-Montgomery) said MHEC will determine the definition of “high-achieving student” and the finer details of the program. Reznik would like to see students from neighborhoods that see low college admittance rates take advantage of this program.

Better-off high school students will be studying colleges, admission procedures and costs, Reznik said, but lower-income students might be less inclined to look for information or might be from school districts lacking extensive counseling services for students looking to get into college.

“In this particular case, the information is available, but putting it together in such a way that makes it relevant to students who are in low college-attendance school districts is a huge benefit to them,” Reznik said.

Legislators hope the bill will encourage students deterred by cost to seek information about financial assistance, such as grants and scholarships, that would make college more accessible and affordable, said Del. Eric Luedtke (D-Montgomery), a co-sponsor of the House bill.

“Low-income students in particular, who often see college as cost-prohibitive, need to be given information [about] existing state programs that can help them pay for school,” Luedtke said. “Because otherwise, it’s very easy to look at the tuition statement and say, ‘No, I can’t afford that.’”

This particular bill resonates with one of the bill’s co-sponsors, Del. Alonzo Washington (D-Prince George’s), a university alumnus who grew up in a low-income household.

“I was a high-achieving student, and I was eligible for a Guaranteed Access Grant,” Washington said. “And if not for someone coming to me and telling me that this opportunity was available to me, then I wouldn’t have gone to college.”

The bill isn’t just for students, though, Reznik said. Over the years, challenging budgets have made it more difficult for some public school districts to employ attentive, full-time high school counselors to help students understand the transition to college. In some cases, one counselor would have to “float” from one school to another and assist every student.

“I would like to see a program in place where we take some pressure off high school counselors who are incredibly overburdened in school districts that can’t afford to really have a number of high school counselors in each district,” Reznik said. “Nowadays — what we’re seeing as a result of budget cuts and other things — if a high school has one full-time counselor, they’re probably lucky in some neighborhoods.”

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