I want to introduce a non-profit college aspirational program I plan to launch in 2020 called High Desert College Collaborative (HDCC). HDCC’s mission is “to inspire the youth of rural Idaho to pursue educational opportunities beyond high school so that they will be empowered to build a brighter future for themselves and their communities.” HDCC will target elementary and middle school students in a selected cohort of public schools in the High Desert region of Southern Idaho. The rationale behind HDCC’s mission and its specific program components are described below.
My motivation for initiating this program is in response to a growing gap, particularly in Idaho’s rural communities, of children being underserved in the pursuit of some level of post-secondary education. Idaho presently has a high school graduation rate of 79.7% (2018) with only 48% of high school graduates “going on” to trade, vocational, or two to four-year degree programs. The economic implications of these low percentages are not only profound for the future of Idaho’s economy, but for the earning power of these future adults ($23,900 vs $48,500/year, NCES 2015). We cannot ask children to aspire to what they do not know or have little reference point for. Students and families in rural communities often lack the aspirational goals of college-bound high school students from more affluent communities like Blaine County, not by any fault of their own, but simply due to insufficient information and understanding about the opportunities available to them. As a long-time educator, I firmly believe that education remains the best pathway to building a brighter future for our rural neighbors. When children can clearly see an alignment between school and their vocational aims, there is a much greater chance of them staying in school and completing their higher educational goals.
At its core, HDCC aims to inspire, connect, incentivize, and celebrate the innate excitement and enthusiasm found in students from grades 3 through 8. Instead of waiting until high school to build student aspirations for college, HDCC will engage the dreams of younger ages, provide vital information on the range of vocational and trade programs and colleges that might best serve those dreams, offer scholarship funds for those who apply and are selected, and promote the essential habits of hard work, continual effort, motivation, and character as core tenets to accessing higher educational opportunities. HDCC will involve parents in this endeavor and engage the local business communities to support and celebrate early aspirations by contributing scholarship funds.
HDCC’s program will offer the following to each participating school:
- College Aspirations Workshops: Annual workshops will be held for students in grades 3-8 in cohort schools/districts to learn about the opportunities in higher education, what “college” actually means, its diversity and range of opportunities, available majors and minors, and what specific colleges meet particular interests and vocational goals (with supporting materials).
- College Aspirations Scholarships: Annual scholarships will be awarded to students in grades 3-8, based on an application and essay regarding one’s career and college aspirations. Students can apply for the $125 award starting in 3rd grade, and can continue to apply each year through the 8th grade. A voluntary committee of teachers/administrators, community members, and HDCC will assess the applications and award the scholarships. When awarded, the scholarship will be redeemable for aspirational programs during high school, or for college and vocational school applications, or for college or vocational school enrollment.
- College Scholarship Awards Celebration: Awards celebration will be hosted each spring by the school and greater community to acknowledge and celebrate those students who earned a $125 scholarship.
- Community Outreach and Sponsorships: HDCC will engage community stakeholders (banks, local businesses, clubs and CBOs) to financially support HDCC’s mission, programming, and scholarship funds. HDCC will also host community informational sessions to help demystify college, to promote the many types that exist, and to discuss how scholarships and financial aid can help pay for college.
- Ongoing Early Awareness and Exploration Opportunities: In collaboration with the host school and its teachers, HDCC will serve as a resource to further curricular activities and events such as inviting alumni to speak about their experiences and careers, inviting local colleges/university representatives to cohort schools, highlighting a career of the week, and much more.
Finally, High Desert College Collaborative’s mission and programming is modeled after a very successful 501(c)3 non-profit called Maine College Circle (www.mainecollegecircle.org). I am forever grateful to my college friend and teammate Bob Stuart, its founder and executive director, for sharing his inspiration, articulation, and programming success. For over twenty-years Maine College Circle (MeCC) has been inspiring children to pursue their professional dreams after high school and 88% of students who received a scholarship through MeCC went onto some level of higher education. That is all the incentive I need to pursue this initiative here in Idaho.