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Education Lab is a yearlong project to spark meaningful conversations about education solutions in the Pacific Northwest.

April 15, 2014 at 5:00 AM

More help navigating the college-application obstacle course

Reuben Santos goes over scholarship possibilities with Caroline Sacerdote at Franklin High School's College Access Now office. Photo by Greg Gilbert / The Seattle Times 2011

Reuben Santos goes over scholarship possibilities with Caroline Sacerdote at Franklin High School’s College Access Now office. Photo by Greg Gilbert / The Seattle Times 2011

Washington’s dismal rate of low-income students enrolling in four-year schools — a stunningly low 18 percent — surprised some who read our Sunday story about college guidance and the lack of help available to many students.

School counselors, it turns out, are not trained in this increasingly complex arena, which could be a major reason behind the low numbers nationally. (Watch this space for another likely contributor to the low rates in Washington.)

Locally, the nonprofit Rainier Scholars provides a powerful answer to about 60 students each year. But the criteria to get in are rigid. You must sign up in fifth grade. You must be a child of color. And you must show academic promise, as determined by Rainier Scholars.

So what if you’re not right for that program? What if you’re a foster kid who’s bounced from school to school for years and doesn’t have great grades?

Answer: Treehouse, the nonprofit most often associated with advocating for foster youth and publishing “The Mockingbird Times,” also does college guidance for foster kids and has staff at more than 100 local middle- and high schools across the region.

What if you’re not a foster kid but need help navigating through all the websites and scholarship possibilities floating around?

Answer: Check out College Access Now (CAN). The nonprofit says that since 2005, it has helped 952 low-income students in their search for a college degree. The majority of them are students of color. Most are the first in their family to attend college. “The least bright rich kids are … more likely to go to a good college than the brightest poor kids,” notes CAN, quoting former Harvard University President Lawrence Summers.

In addressing that problem, CAN advertises these results:

  • 99 percent of its students complete the FAFSA application,
  • 97 percent are accepted to at least one college, and
  • 85 percent enroll in college, as compared to 51 percent of their peers nationwide.

Also consider the College Success Foundation: Headquartered in Issaquah, the foundation works with students as early as fifth grade, mentors them through college (similar to Rainier Scholars) and has disbursed a reported $153 million in total scholarships since 2000. College Success aims at “low-income, high-potential students” and has opened a branch office in Tacoma, with plans to expand to Spokane this year.

Upward Bound offers a free six-week summer school held at Seattle University for 9th and 10th grade students at Rainier Beach, Chief Sealth, and Garfield high schools. Participants must be low-income and the first in their families who would graduate from college. Through the program they get academic tutoring; SAT and ACT test prep classes and fee waivers; help with financial aid applications; college-visit workshops; and access to summer internships.

Comments | More in News | Topics: college readiness, counseling, higher ed

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