As part of United Way’s commitment to help students and families be successful from cradle-to-career, we are excited to more intentionally focus on supporting college access strategies within our Community High Schools and Jr. Highs. We are also adding capacity and support around helping student’s access, retain, and complete a college education.
Last month, myself and several Community School Directors attended the College Access Network of Utah’s (CANU) annual retreat, put on by the Utah System of Higher Education (USHE). This group’s primary mission is to support and strengthen programs and services that encourage the access and attainment of higher education for Utah’s under-served, low-income, first-generation, and historically underrepresented student populations. They also support the goal of 66 percent of all Utahns having a credential beyond high school by 2020. For more information on core action strategies of CANU, please click here. http://www.stepuputah.com/access-network/
During the retreat, Kari Cutler, Director of Promise South Salt Lake, and myself lead two break-out sessions on how to utilize Collective Impact principles to align communities, schools, and organizations around higher education access. The group was enthusiastic and excited about how United Way and the City of South Salt Lake have partnered together to make sure students and families have access to educational opportunities, high-quality healthcare, and income resources. The group also heard about how United Way is is partnering with the University of Utah Reading Clinic, Bennion Center, and various other departments at the University of Utah, as well as Westminster and Salt Lake Community College, to offer needed support through mentors, tutors, and student volunteers to increase academic proficiency and college readiness.
Later, United Way staff participated in discussions about forming Local College Access Networks (LCAN’s) throughout United Way’s Promise Neighborhoods to begin creating continuous improvement plans to help students access the resources to help them successfully matriculate into college and beyond! Currently, these discussions are most robust within the Granite School District College and Career Readiness department where United Way is offering support. Such resources as FAFSA completion nights, taking the ACT, taking a college-level course, visiting a college campus, understanding what classes students should take in high school to be college ready, and applying for scholarships, etc. are important to understand, particularly for students who are first in their family to attend college, come from low-income families, and face other challenges to college access. Being a part of CANU is particularly encouraging for Jr. High’s and High Schools when students start to make decisions about the value of educational success as early as 8th grade.
The retreat ended with a video about how Collective Impact work is creating community-level change. If we want to move the needle on students accessing and completing college, then systems, schools, communities, businesses, and local organizations (like United Way and groups like CANU) must work together towards that common goal! I look forward to continuing to be a part of CANU and similar discussions about how we can support students in their college aspirations!