Program Evolution: Growth and Change in College Access Events Across Grade Levels
Speakers - Mary Nelle Hall and Courtney Rogers, Tennessee Higher Education Commission


Thursday, April 19 – 1:30 p.m.

In Spring 2017, the College Access and Success Division took on a new approach to recruit and support schools interested in implementing college access events across grade levels. Through a three-pronged approach, the team increased the registrations for Path to College by over 100% in just one year. In this session, representatives from the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC) shared their strategies and continued improvement plans in each of the following areas:

  1. Proactive Outreach: Our recruitment efforts prior to 2017 primarily focused on high schools and nonprofits that support high school students. In order to grow our impact and reach middle and elementary schools, we knew that we would need to collaborate with stakeholders who had more of a presence in the lower grades. THEC staff worked with Tennessee’s School Counseling Coordinator to host eight regional meetings across the state for K-12 school counselors in order to promote Path to College. The Tennessee Department of Education and Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation also provided recruitment support, sharing about Path to College in newsletters and when financial aid outreach specialists visited schools.
  2. Collaboration: The best ideas come from practitioners! But with all of the daily tasks that counselors are responsible for, opportunities to collaborate are too often few and far between.  During our meetings, round table time was provided for counselors to hear from one another about the kinds of college and career activities that were already happening in their schools. Each counselor was provided a graphic organizer worksheet to write down their ideas for both things they’re doing and for aspirational ideas that they would like to implement in coming years. At lunch time, Mary Nelle collected all of the worksheets and photocopied each one, eventually compiling hundreds of pages of best practices and ideas into a detailed document. These ideas are now being used to transform our current guidebooks into 3 volumes: an elementary guidebook, a middle school guidebook, and a high school guidebook for how to support college and career exploration throughout the year.
  3. Innovative Acknowledgement: For the first time, High Schools are eligible to earn the designation of “Path to College School” if they implement each of the four Path to College events and complete a short survey after each event. The College Access and Success team plans to announce the Path to College schools via a press release and provide each school a banner or poster recognizing their achievement. Schools have been enthusiastic about earning this designation, and it has helped solve a problem that has plagued our events since the beginning: low survey responses. After College App Week 2016, we received surveys from 59 schools, but with the new event format and the Path to College designation as an incentive, we received survey responses from 250 schools after College Application and Exploration Week 2017. This represents a 424% increase in survey responses.