Over the past decade, the importance of connecting all students to postsecondary options has gained substantial attention and traction nationally. Schools, educational partners, and stakeholders are increasingly recognizing the need to expand postsecondary options and supports to reach more students — not just the top academic performers. However, many are also recognizing the depth of support that students require to not only navigate the college application process, but also to obtain and maintain adequate financial aid and ensure that supports (including social and emotional supports) are in place to help them persist and stay in college.
Driven by the need to provide equitable and high-quality college advising services to all high school students in New York City, the Goddard Riverside Options Center and the New York City Department of Education’s (NYCDOE) Office of Postsecondary Readiness partnered to pilot a condensed six-day training series based on the Options Institute. The Options Institute is an intensive certificate course to train school and community-based professionals on how to guide students through the postsecondary process. The success of this pilot led to a larger effort to bring the Options-NYCDOE training program to the entire New York City high school system. From 2010–2016, the Options-NYCDOE training reached almost all high schools in New York City, serving more than 1,600 school- and CBO-based staff of various positions, expertise, and experience.
Equal Measure conducted a two-year evaluation of the Options-NYCDOE training program (completed in July 2016). Our evaluation was focused on answering the following question:
What is the impact of Options-NYCDOE training in helping to shift educator knowledge and practice in NYC high schools to support a greater number of students in achieving college acceptance, enrollment, and persistence?
To address that question, the evaluation team worked with program leaders to develop three areas in which participating school counselors, college advisors, teachers, administrators, and others were expected to experience change during and after the training: 1) Participant knowledge and practice, 2) Participant-student interactions, and 3) Participant-school staff interactions.
In this second installment of a three-part blog series, we showcase findings from the second area of change:
Participants are now broadly more equitable and deliberate in their advising practices – thereby reaching a broader range of students and providing them with more individualized supports. As a result of the training, participants are now better equipped to help more students achieve college advising milestones, and to target services, supports, and information to meet unique student needs (e.g., assessing college fit and aligning financial need) and support a wider range of students – including those with differing immigrant statuses. Participants saw the opportunity to, and, for some, were able to offer a greater breadth of services across grades 9 to 12. After the training sessions, school counselors felt more confident to serve as the first line for any general college inquiries and less likely to refer students to another office for basic college advising information. Participants could also advise students who had non-college track plans post-graduation, and said that the training enabled them to discuss more postsecondary options.
The Options Training demystified the complicated financial aid process and helped participants understand the important components of applying for financial aid (e.g., steps for filing a FAFSA, a financial aid timeline, and comparing financial aid packages). The financial aid process is one of the greatest barriers to college access. Therefore, it is imperative that those who advise students on financial aid are knowledgeable and comfortable in the process. The financial aid training materials served as tremendously helpful references, and highlighted different scenarios and details of the financial aid application process. Several participating educators referred to having “ripped that workbook apart” or “using those materials all the time” with their students.
“Initially, the financial aid piece would be a little intimidating. There are so many numbers, and you almost feel like an accountant, but they break it down for you, so that it helps you gain your confidence and help you through it when you’re faced with it.” ~School Counselor, Bronx
The Options training recognized that in order to serve and address the needs of New York City’s very diverse population, working with non-U.S. born students with various immigration statuses is critical. Immigrant students, more specifically those students who are undocumented or who come from undocumented families, face significant barriers to postsecondary education attainment. These barriers include not knowing what legal and financial resources are available to them after high school. The sixth session, Immigrant Students and the College Process, was especially powerful for many participants, as many educators had previously felt helpless with immigrant or undocumented students, unaware of what options were available. After the training, participants were equipped to help students understand that college was indeed an option regardless of residential status, and that some forms of aid may be available.
“The fact that they brought in an outside speaker from the Legal Aid Society to break it down and explain to us what citizens’ rights are, what residents’ rights are, what people on visas’ rights are, that was very helpful to me as a counselor because I have all those types of students.” ~Counselor, Manhattan
After the training sessions, participants not only felt empowered to provide students with information, but were equipped to help students become their own advocates and decision makers. There was a philosophical shift in how participants interacted and mentored students, encouraging students to become their own advocates in the college application process. The students were supported to become leaders, and to take charge of their college application process. For example, students were now encouraged to call college admissions offices if they had any questions about their application, and, as a result of the training, participants were able to rehearse these calls with the students in order to build their confidence. Options participants gained the knowledge, tools, and resources to provide the students with objective ways to consider and weigh their different college options, rather than telling each student what they thought the student should do.