How to Help Students Increase Their College Knowledge
Recently, we discussed some of the main reasons why students drop out of college. We know a major reason is due to a lack of “college knowledge." This consists of the lingo used among higher ed staff that may be unfamiliar to some students. It also means making sure that students know where to go when they need help. Unfortunately, many students, particularly first-gen and low-income students, lack college knowledge.
As a result, they enter college without being fully prepared. This barrier can easily lead to student dropouts. With student success on the line, it's important for college access and higher ed pros to learn how to help students increase their college knowledge.
The college knowledge students need to know
It’s likely that each student will have a different level of college knowledge from the next. However, it can be helpful for staff to introduce (and sometimes reintroduce) pieces of college knowledge to students. It will only help students feel more prepared in the end.
Here are six main talking points for how to help students increase their college knowledge:
- Begin with discussing their return on investment
- Introduce commonly used lingo
- Provide a financial aid overview
- Talk about first-day expectations
- Share how to locate resources
- Make sure they know how to do laundry (no, really)
Read on for a more in-depth discussion of how to help students increase their college knowledge.
1. Begin with discussing their return on investment
One way to help students increase their college knowledge is to talk to them about the return on investment. Last week, we discussed how important it is that students know that the need to go to college extends far beyond the wishes of teachers and parents. While those expectations are great, today’s students need to know why college is a worthwhile investment. This is particularly true for Gen Z members. These students need to see the data for themselves. They expect to see why college is necessary. They need proof that their efforts, money, and time will pay off. Showing students the data for themselves is a great idea to help students increase their college knowledge. It gives the conversation purpose. Once they buy into the idea that college is worth it, they are more open to increasing their college knowledge.
2. Introduce commonly used lingo
It’s likely that students will hear lingo in college that they simply aren’t used to hearing. For example, they may not know the differences between an associate degree and a bachelor’s degree. Further, they may question how a community college is different from a university. Using these terms with students will help them understand what they mean before they go to college. In turn, this will help them avoid needless confusion.
3. Provide a financial aid overview
While one of the more complex college knowledge topics, giving students a financial aid overview is a worthwhile discussion. A good start to this discussion would be to define the differences between loans, scholarships, and grants and to make sure students know how important it is to file the FAFSA. This will help students grasp the types of aid available to them while they also learn how to apply for them. Further, students will understand the importance of filing a FAFSA for each year they are in college. Some students believe that filing the FAFSA is a one-time event. Staff can dispel that myth to help students increase their college knowledge — and keep them on the right track to receiving aid yearly.
4. Talk about first-day expectations
One of the most commonly asked (and overlooked!) questions for college access staff is simply what to expect on the first day of college. Often, students are nervous on their first day. Telling students what a typical first day of college is like – reviewing course syllabi and becoming familiar with course outcomes – can help ease students’ fears. It’s also a good idea to give students a general list of items to bring with them. Likely, they’re used to reading a list of required materials before the school year begins. Providing them with a similar list for college, which might include pens, pencils, notebooks, and folders, is a good way to help them keep that familiarity and prepare them for the next step in their education.
5. Share how to locate resources
A tip that will help students through their entire college journey is how to locate resources on campus. For instance, staff can tell students to contact their academic advisor should they need to make a change to their course schedule. The primary point of contact for a residence hall question might be a resident assistant. The student services department might be the place to visit for other questions or concerns. Students, particularly first-gen students, are oftentimes shy about asking for help. A discussion like this will help normalize the need for assistance and encourage students to reach out for help when needed.
6. Make sure they know how to do laundry (no, really)
For some students, going to college is the first experience they have being away from home. As such, they need to know how to handle certain tasks they may be doing for the first time. Ideally, parents will lead this discussion with their students. Staff can encourage parents to do just this. However, staff can help move this conversation along. College access staff might organize events to help students learn about budgeting, for example. College staff might introduce topics, such as making healthy choices and prioritizing mental health, during orientation. These topics will not only help students increase their college knowledge, but they will help them enter college being far more prepared for the responsibilities college life brings.
Texting students to increase their college knowledge
There are several programs in the country that exist to help increase students’ college knowledge. For example, the federally funded Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs, or GEAR UP, program provides students with wraparound services to help them get to and through college. GEAR UP provides students in 45 states access to college knowledge, usually beginning in 7th grade with some programs continuing through the first year of college. Through this work, staff expose students to the idea of college early and introduce age-appropriate information to them to increase their college knowledge.
Many GEAR UP programs throughout the country partner with Signal Vine to help students increase their college knowledge by introducing it in small chunks via text message. For example, Eastern New Mexico University - Roswell GEAR UP uses the Signal Vine texting platform to text GEAR UP students who are eligible for a scholarship. As a result of their efforts in 2018-19, they were able to reach nearly 100 additional students. Staff were able to award these students with an additional $100,000 in scholarships.
Another success story comes out of West Virginia. The West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission, which houses the state’s GEAR UP program, texts students with important college knowledge facts. Through the agency’s Txt 4 Success initiative, college access staff text students in the state to help them grow their college knowledge and learn how to pursue education after high school. As a result, rural students who opt-in to receive texts are nearly 8 percentage points more likely than their peers to persist through their freshman year of college.
To learn more about the impact of college knowledge on students, check out our Student Retention Guidebook. For examples on how to help students increase their college knowledge via text message, check out our Texting Through the GEAR UP Grant Cycle ebook.
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