The latest news and updates from CARA.
What the Pandemic Can Teach Us about FAFSA Completion
Friday, October 1 marked the opening of the FAFSA process for the class of 2022. This year’s seniors enter a postsecondary application process transformed by the pandemic; as schools return to supporting their students, what can be learned and improved upon from the past 18 challenging months? Last spring, CARA followed the FAFSA process at some of our partner schools in order to answer this question; the resulting paper was profiled on the National College Attainment Network’s blog. As we note there, what schools told us is that, “The conversation around college has changed.” See the full paper for our findings and suggestions for transforming FAFSA completion work at schools.
Recent News from CARA
After starting her own college access program at a high school in Hawaii, Alana Haitsuka (age 54) sought to learn more about peer-to-peer work directly from CARA. She has journeyed to New York City for the fall to spend her semester sabbatical interning at CARA. While she initially planned to just pick up some new ideas, she is now hoping to continue working with CARA after returning to Hawaii. Alana talked to us about how this transition came to be, and what more she is hoping to gain through this partnership.
How did you decide to spend your sabbatical as an intern at CARA?
I wanted to learn more about the peer-to-peer model of high school students helping other high school students with college access and success. I started a program in Hawaii 3 years ago; my program is called Team College Counselor and I just did it on my own, made it up as I went and I’m proud of it. However, I knew that there were so many things I didn’t know what I was doing and that there were ways I could make it better. So that is what led me to pursue an internship here.
You can learn a lot from visiting and observing a place, but I think the way that you really become a part of a place or you really learn the most is by participating in the work. So if I had just come here [to CARA] to observe and learn, I would have taken some things back with me, but the only way to be a part of the culture is to contribute as well as take and so that’s why I wanted to intern.
What are you hoping to accomplish through this experience/opportunity?
I think now halfway through it, I am hoping to accomplish something different than what I came into it hoping to accomplish. Originally I just wanted to get some ideas, take them back, and implement them at my school. Now, I see that I would like to continue working with CARA. What I hope to accomplish is to continue some sort of relationship between either our school or other schools in Hawaii that may utilize the College Inquiry or Right to College model.
What have you learned so far? And what are you still hoping to learn?
I think I’ve learned how important it is to institutionalize the programs versus just doing it as an individual. So, what I hope is to take the Team College Counselor at home away from me and make it part of the culture of the school so that it’s not tied to just an individual.
A highlight has been getting to know all of the people who work at CARA. I feel very comfortable amongst people with the same passion as me. Even though we’re working with students that may be from different ethnicities, different cultures, different languages, they still have the same struggles. It’s just been rewarding to see the passion and the hard work that CARA staff put into trying to help students meet the same college access and success goals that I’m working on in Hawaii.
There are a lot of things I’ll take away with me but there was a statement recently that Lori Chajet [Co-Director of CARA] made that I will always hold on to. We were at a school and going over specific things that needed to be done as part of the program and there was a question like, “Well, what if we aren’t able to do this or we aren’t able to do that?” and Lori said “Anything that we don’t do will just be another obstacle in the way of the students being able to be successful.” I’ve never heard it said that way, but it just is very clear, it’s very true, and really of great importance. All of those pieces are not just a checklist; they are things that have to be done so that students can be successful.
As the class of 2022 works to fill out college applications this fall, there are several noteworthy shifts in the college admissions landscape. While CARA is seeing many worrying signs about students’ preparation for the application process – and increased hesitancy about attending college at all – there are also some pieces of good news this fall.
First, as a result of the pandemic, a growing number of colleges have embraced test-optional policies in their admissions process. Fairtest reports that more than 3/4s of colleges and universities will not require ACT/SAT scores for Fall 2022 applicants, and most are committed to extending this through Fall 2023. This includes the CUNY system, along with 85 other campuses, which have removed the need for the tests entirely by instituting test-blind admissions. Given widespread acknowledgement that access to ACT/SAT test prep is unequal, and growing evidence that scores are not valid predictors of student success and but rather align most reliably to family income (see Paul Tough’s The Inequality Machine: How College Divides Us), this is an important move towards equity in admissions. To see a list of test-optional and test-blind colleges, click here.
Second, highly competitive Amherst College announced that it is doing away with legacy admissions. While legacy admissions policies blatantly favor more well-off families, most competitive colleges have nevertheless held onto these policies. We hope to see other competitive colleges follow their lead.
And third, a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education noted that Nicole Hurd, the new president of Lafayette University – formerly the head of the College Advising Corps – is ending use of the CSS profile for low-income students. The CSS Profile, owned by the College Board, is used by over 300 private colleges to gather additional financial information about applications. As she notes,
“We make low-income students prove over and over and over again that they’re poor, and that’s not OK…It takes a long time to fill out the Profile, and it’s harder if you’re not a native English speaker, if your tax status is complicated, or if you’re not in communication with both of your parents. This form is a problem.”
Lafayette College will waive the form for individual students who qualify for free and reduced price lunch, as well as all students who attend schools where 75 percent or more of students qualify for free and reduced-price lunch. We see this as another important step towards equity in college admissions.
One of the strategies that emerged as particularly effective in the past year and a half of virtual teaching and learning was leaning into relationship-based programming. Bill Gates himself took note of this phenomenon in a recent foundation blog post; in this linked post, CUNY’s College Connect program (staffed by CARA-trained peer leaders) is profiled as an exemplary program. As author Sara Allan argues,
“We need to strengthen our education pathway structures and systems so that all students’ access to high-quality supports and learning opportunities aren’t left to chance or determined by where a student lives. We know we can do better. It’s already happening in some places – just not in enough places – and it’s happening in a systematic way.”
CARA is excited to be partnering with CUNY to develop CUNY College Connect, implementing relationship-based support systemically at the largest higher ed institution in the country; stay tuned for insights as this work proceeds.
One of the challenges educators – particularly teachers of 11th and 12th graders, and college counselors – knew they were facing as they headed back to school in September was the gap in postsecondary exploration and planning created by the pandemic. As the principal of a school in Waterbury, Connecticut reflected in the New York Times,
“What a lot of people don’t think about is the loss of time in terms of college or career planning. Normally when we have students in person, we start this early, in ninth grade, talking about what steps you can take even at 14. While we attempted to do a lot of that stuff while we were virtual, we weren’t as successful.
Now we have juniors under the gun playing catch-up with their college planning…. Normally it’s rather easy for a student to ask for a college recommendation letter. But how well do staff members actually know students who haven’t been in person for the last year and a half?”As we’ve listened to teachers and students over the past weeks, we’re hearing these same concerns. And despite school being fully in person, many of the structures and tools that school use to help students explore postsecondary education are still not available. The NYC Department of Education has announced that trips (and thus college trips) are prohibited; college fairs and admissions rep visits that allowed students to talk directly with college staff are remaining virtual; schools that did college access lessons/programming outside of regular classroom structures are having to rethink their approach. Ongoing economic precarity for many students and their families is also continuing to impact students’ thinking about their choices after high school.It is clear that the year ahead will continue to pose new challenges for postsecondary access, and require continued ingenuity on the part of schools. Aware of the challenges at-hand, CARA is excited to be collaborating with principals, counselors and teachers to find innovative ways to meet the needs of students.
As we head towards the end of summer and the start of college for the class of 2021, there are worrying dips in the number of students who have completed FAFSA.
CARA served as a source for a recent article about this on NPR Marketplace. Nationally, just over half the class of 2021 (52.6%) completed FAFSA by the end of June, down 5.1% from last year overall. These drops are steeper among Title 1 eligible schools (-6.8%) and schools serving high concentrations of students of color (-8.4%).
Amidst these challenges, we want to make special mention of one of our partner schools, Central Park East High School, who won this year’s Education Trust NY FAFSA challenge. With a 98% completion rate, CPEHS is one of 4 NYC winners and one of 12 statewide winners. As noted in the Ed Trust press release, the school’s 12 CARA-trained Right to College Peer Leaders played an important role in this accomplishment. We congratulate them for their hard work!
With the passage of the American Rescue Plan (ARP) and the investment of $123 billion in K-12 education, the federal government has made a dramatic attempt to give communities the tools to rebuild after the pandemic. Along with collaborators from leading educational organizations across the country, CARA is pleased to be a contributor to Invest Forward, a new effort to encourage district and state leaders to prioritize support for students’ pathways to postsecondary and career success in their ARP spending plans. Be sure to check out the new website with detailed how-to guides for potential pathways investment strategies – CARA’s contribution focuses on expanding college advising during the school day – and more will be added each month.
Additionally, NYU’s Metro Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools featured CARA on its Perspectives blog. The post, “I Felt Like I Never Fit in”: Increasing College Access and Persistence, references CARA’s recent report on peer-led college access programming, citing the progress cities like New York have made in supporting students through the post-secondary planning process and urging colleges to match those efforts to support first-generation, low-income, BIPOC students to persist through to graduation.
We are excited to be a part of rebuilding in the year ahead, both in NYC and beyond.
CARA is excited to announce that, with generous funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the summer of 2021 will see the expansion of near peer counseling at CUNY.
In partnership with CUNY’s Central Office of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management, City College of New York (CCNY), and Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC), CARA’s College Allies program will further expand through CUNY College Connect to serve up to 4,000 students at BMCC and CCNY in 2021-2022.
CUNY College Connect was recently profiled in A New Near-Peer Coaching Program Strives to Keep Incoming Freshmen on Course, in The Education Trust’s Higher Ed – Equity Lens.
This expansion will allow the colleges to provide proactive peer-to-peer advisement support to almost 100% of first year students not already in a special support program (e.g. CD, SEEK, ASAP).
Beyond directly serving these students, CUNY central and campus partners will work together to ensure Peer Leaders are integrated into campus-based programming and to develop a strategic plan to scale peer-to-peer programming across CUNY in future years.
For the short-term, the program will expand to two more campuses in 2022-2023, doubling the number of students reached. In the long term, the goal is for Peer Leaders to be used systemwide to both expand advisement capacity and provide professional pathways in education and counseling to a widening group of CUNY students.
We’re thrilled that, for the second year in a row, two CARA Youth Leaders received scholarships from the Meringoff Family Foundation through the annual Meringoff Valedictory Prize competition. First place awardee Deneliz Espinal is a Youth Leader at Academy of Innovative Technology on the Franklin K. Lane Campus, with Cypress Hills LDC; second place awardee Jhoanna Fernandez is a Youth Leader at Dreamyard Preparatory School on the Taft Campus with New Settlement Apartments. Deneliz will be attending University of Connecticut and Jhoanna will be attending CUNY City College.
We are so proud of them, and so grateful to the Meringoff Family Foundation for their continued support for CARA and our Youth Leaders. You can read Deneliz’ essay here.
Deneliz Espinal (Left) || Jhoanna Fernandez (Right)
In her new book, Fires in Our Lives: Advice for Teachers from Today’s High School Students, Kathleen Cushman features former CARA Youth Leader Angel Perez. Alongside the book, Cushman has released a series of podcasts, one of which features CARA co-director Lori Chajet.
As Chajet notes, “We’re in a moment where the future of college access is enough in crisis – the future of college and higher education is enough in crisis – that we need to see stronger pipelines, they need to start earlier, and that support needs to last through college. And peer leadership is the best way to do it.”
CARA Featured in the News and Policy Reports
- A New Near-Peer Coaching Program Strives to Keep Incoming Freshmen on Course, in The Education Trust’s Higher Ed – Equity Lens.
- CARA releases new report on Student Success Centers, Peer Led College Access Programming: A Profile of Student Success Centers in NYC.
- CARA’s policy brief: Organizing for Access: Building High School Capacity to Support Student’s Postsecondary Pathways
- New York Times magazine, Her School Offered a Path to the Middle Class: Will Covid-19 Block It?
- NPR Marketplace, Many high school seniors in the “class of COVID” are rethinking their college plans
- The Hechinger Report, Getting College Guidance Numbers Right: What if Young People Were a Solution, Not Just a Problem?
- CUNY TV, This edition: CARA-College Access: Research & Action
- Fox 5, Featured Story: Supporting every student
- NY1/Noticias, Guían a jóvenes en su proceso de ingreso universitario
- WPIX, College counseling program helps bridge the gap
- The Hechinger Report, College dreams often melt away in summer months. ‘Near-peer’ counseling is helping keep them alive.
- The Gothamist, ‘Summer Melt’ Is A College Admissions Killer. These Students Are Here To Help.
- Center for an Urban Future, Degrees of Difficulty: Boosting College Success in NYC
- NPR, In the Weeks Before Freshmen Year, Money Worries Aplenty
- NPR, What You Should Know about the New Summer SAT
- Chalkbeat, Students Helping Students
- ABC 7, New York Viewpoint
- NY Times – Schoolbook, These Students Have Been Accepted to College, But Will They Show Up This Fall?
- Aljazeera America, Will Cristal’s College Dream Survive the Summer?
- City Limits, Getting Kids Ready for College, Beyond the Classroom
- Center for New York City Affairs, Creating College Ready Communities: Preparing NYC’s Precarious New Generation of College Students
- What Kids Can Do, Across Summer’s Shaky Bridge to College, Help from Other Students
- Chalkbeat, Gotham Schools: Usable Knowledge
Annenberg Institute for School Reform, VUE, “We’re All in it Together”: the Role of Youth Leadership in College Access”
- What Kids Can Do, “Submit Application!” Youth Coach Their Peers Past the College-Access Potholes