Information about higher education needs to be more candid, accessible and fun to build a college-bound culture.
That’s what teenagers told Alberto Retana, ED director of community outreach, at two forums in Chicago on July 8 and 9.
“We meet with all kinds of groups—educators, parents, government officials—to hear their ideas on how we can best meet the President’s goal of having the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020,” said Retana. “Too often, we don’t listen to the people who may have the most valuable input of all—the youth themselves.”
To get that input, the Department partnered with two community-based organizations in Chicago to develop the forums—Voices of Youth in Chicago Education (VOYCE) and the Federation for Community Schools. They attracted more than 100 high school and college students who represented diverse cultures and backgrounds. While most participants either plan to go to college or are already enrolled, many will be the first in their families to earn college degrees and live in neighborhoods where it is not commonly expected.
Students described experiences that helped shape their college-going decisions. They shared ideas about how to overcome the barriers that deter other teens from pursuing higher education.
One participant described how his mother’s decision to go back to school influenced him. He encouraged parents to understand that “when you’re inspired to do better for yourself, your kids get inspired and do better, too.”
Another said that college preparatory programs should “be interesting and provide information that we really need.” That would make higher education appealing and relevant to more students.
A student suggested that high schools with limited or no college and career centers form partnerships with other schools or organizations that have resources to help youth plan their futures.
Retana will lead similar sessions in other cities throughout the United States over the next few months in a National Youth Listening Tour. The tour is designed to promote the President’s goal that America once again will have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020. Students’ ideas from these sessions will be incorporated into a final report to be presented to ED leaders. The Department is also developing a Facebook page to continue dialogue with youth leaders who participate in the forums.