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Office of the Chancellor / Public Affairs
Monday, September 22, 2003
 

Washington Post 9-21-03

Group Steers More Students to, and Through, College
District Program Provides Advice And Tuition Aid
By Jay Mathews

 

Rashidah Sabree, like many otherwise bright students at the District's Roosevelt Senior High School, began her senior year far behind in the race to get into college. Unlike most suburban high school students, she had not taken the SAT, and when she did, the scores were not good -- 320 in math and 340 in verbal skills.

Three years later, the daughter of a construction worker and a bank teller is a junior at Delaware State University, working toward degrees in sociology and criminal justice.

Sabree benefited from a college tuition assistance program for D.C. residents that Congress established in 1999. But she also received help from advisers employed by the District of Columbia College Access Program (DC-CAP), one of several private organizations trying to encourage more D.C. public school students to apply to college -- and working to ensure they remain in college after they enroll.

Under legislation passed by Congress, D.C. residents who attend any state university in the nation can receive up to $10,000 annually to make up the difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition. They also can get up to $2,500 a year if they attend a private college in the Washington area or a historically black college.

Surveys by the private group suggest that the number of D.C. public school graduates attending college has increased significantly, though no public agency has compiled figures comparing college attendance before and after the legislation took effect in 2000. The surveys say that enrollment of freshmen from the District more than doubled from 1999 to 2002 at the 12 public universities that historically have drawn the most D.C. students -- and increased more than 50 percent at seven regional private colleges and four community colleges in the area during that period.

Sixty-one percent of this year's District public high school graduates said they plan to attend college this fall, according to a survey by the D.C. school system. Nationally, only about 46 percent of low-income high school students go to college.

The college access program, which has a $32 million endowment from several large corporations, runs the most extensive of the private programs seeking to increase the number of D.C. high school graduates attending college. It has placed 16 full-time college advisers in D.C. public high schools, roughly doubling the number of college counselors in those schools. It also employs "retention advisers" to help students stay in college and provided $2.2 million in scholarships in the 2002-03 academic year.

Other private groups providing college counseling in the D.C. public schools include College Bound, Hoop Dreams, the Urban Alliance Foundation and College Summit.

Reginald Ballard, principal of the District's Cardozo Senior High School, said there is no substitute for "the face-to-face contact, having a person here every day who can stop the kid in the hallway and say: 'Where is your application? Have you turned in your scholarship letter?' "

But some experts have cautioned that resources are stretched thin even with the support of private organizations, with one college adviser sometimes assigned to work with hundreds of students. They also said that D.C. high school courses must be better taught and more rigorous for students to survive in college.

Sabree said her college access program adviser helped her prepare her application to Delaware State and convinced her that she had the ability to succeed there despite her low SAT scores.

She said she had trouble adjusting to small, quiet Dover after enjoying the Washington area's night life. "The first year I hated it," she said. "I wanted to come home. I was homesick." But she said that college access program advisers Pamela Brown and Andrea Linthicum-Seymour helped her with financial problems and told her repeatedly that if she stayed, things would get better. Eventually, Sabree said, she understood "that I was up there for an education. I was not up there to socialize."

Linthicum-Seymour said she has had to convince Sabree and other D.C. students whose parents didn't attend college that their tuition dollars entitle them to the same services that middle-class college students receive. When D.C. students get to college, they "are often afraid to speak up or afraid to ask for help," Linthicum-Seymour said. "I provided a medium for Rashidah to be able to express herself."

Jaime Boone, who graduated from Anacostia High School the same year that Sabree graduated from Roosevelt, said he benefited from the college access program "providing SAT prep courses to improve my overall score; helping me research, apply and select a good school; providing the needed mentoring and motivation to encourage me to succeed in college; and providing me with a scholarship towards my tuition."

He was accepted into the Catholic University, where he maintained a 3.3 grade-point average before transferring recently to the University of Maryland at College Park.

The private program began offering college counseling in the D.C. high schools in the fall of 1999. Based on the group's annual checks with colleges, 72 percent of the 1,430 D.C. public school graduates who started college in 2001 have at least completed their freshman year.

The program's financial backers include AES Corp., America Online, the Morris & Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation, ExxonMobil, the Fannie Mae Foundation, the Greater Washington Urban League, Lockheed Martin, Marriott International, the Catherine B. Reynolds Foundation, Riggs National Corp., Sallie Mae, Charles E. Smith Cos., Verizon and The Washington Post Co. Donald E. Graham, the Post Co. chairman, is president of the program's board.

Among other private groups providing assistance, College Bound's volunteers work on lessons and college applications with about 150 D.C. students in weekly two-hour sessions. Hoop Dreams has volunteers helping 75 high school seniors and a smaller number of juniors each year, as well as maintaining contact with hundreds of college students. The Urban Alliance Foundation helped about 25 college-going seniors last year and has other services for other students. And the Coaching for College Program hopes to have 60 volunteers working with 30 to 40 students this year at Shaw Junior High.