How do we make and maintain a college connection for our students?

The College, Career & Technology Academy partners with South Texas College to make and maintain the college connection by offering dual enrollment courses, leveraging state dual enrollment policy. Starting college before completing high school, via dual enrollment, is what attracts most students to CCTA. Its recruitment materials highlight this opportunity and focus on future successes rather than past failures.

The activities that CCTA and its partner South Texas College implement to help returning students make and maintain the college connection can be divided into three categories: academic, cultural, and administrative. All three are necessary to ensure the college connection is made and maintained. Each is woven into a student's experience, from recruitment through high school graduation and matriculation into college.


MAINTAINING THE COLLEGE CONNECTION

key principles of maintaining a college connection

START WITH RECRUITMENT 

At CCTA, staff:

  • Use the college connection to attract students. Advertising emphasizes what students can do, rather than what they failed to do.
  1. Get your high school diploma and start your college education today!
  2. Dropped Out of High School? No Future? You CAN go to College and Finish High School at the Same Time!
  3. You CAN go to college! Finish your high school requirements and start college at the same time!

CONTINUE DURING INTAKE 

At CCTA, staff:

  • Introduce students to dual enrollment and college readiness during intake, while starting related paperwork.
  • Start both administrative and culture-building processes: registering for dual enrollment courses and beginning the practice of identifying oneself as college “material.”

  1. All students complete a paper application for South Texas College. This is the first administrative step for dual enrollment. 
  2. All students are introduced to the mini-mester concept: a compressed, college-level course taken either at South Texas College or on the CCTA campus.
  3. On-site at CCTA, the Go Center is staffed by current college students, a transition counselor, and CCTA staff to provide information on college to CCTA students
  • Have students complete the “college interest survey,” indicating courses they would like to take when eligible for dual enrollment. This step conveys the expectation that they will take at least one college course while enrolled at CCTA.
  • Make sure students attending group intake (rather than one-on-one intake) stop at the intake station devoted to the college transition. The college transition specialist staffs that station. In addition to helping incoming students complete the STC registration for dual enrollment, career pathway information is shared and students are introduced to the GO Center[1].

MAKE THE UNFAMILIAR FAMILIAR

 At CCTA, students:

  • See college posters and pictures and updates on CCTA graduates enrolled in college as they go to class every day, absorbing the idea that college is within their grasp.
  •  Tour the STC campus early on, regardless of how far they are from taking their first dual enrollment mini-mester.  The tour includes the library and the resource area for student supports.
  • Attend an orientation on the STC campus that is led by the STC outreach counselor. In the orientation, they learn about:
  1. The college placement tests (Texas Higher Education Assessment) and the levels they must attain on those tests to be eligible for credit-bearing courses once matriculated as STC students;
  2. The variety of supports available to all STC college students; plus special supports for students matriculating from their program (the college transition counselor).
  • Also at orientation, those who do not yet have a student college ID receive one during the orientation. Students are encouraged to notice the resemblance between themselves and the other college students.

KNOW THAT PASSING TAKS IS NOT ENOUGH

At CCTA, staff:

  • Use a set of instructional practices called the Common Instructional Framework that prepare students for college-level academics 
  • Offer the College Success Course, required by STC. It provides students with skills in note taking, studying, and time management.

     

LET EXPERIENCE BE THE TEACHER

At CCTA and STC, staff:

  • Start students in college courses via dual enrollment as soon as possible.
  1. As soon as CCTA students pass the tenth grade ELA TAKS[2], they are enrolled in the mini-mester of their choice.
  • Use the information generated via the CCTA student preferences survey to tell the STC dual enrollment coordinator which courses students are interested in and how many students will be taking the course.
  • Visit each CCTA dual enrollment class to make sure that each student’s dual enrollment form has been completed. CCTA provides STC with all of a student’s TAKS scores, and STC uses the highest scores for course placement.
  • Enable a limited number of students who have not yet passed the ELA TAKS, but who show great motivation and the capacity to do the work, to take a mini-mester course. In these cases, the course grade is withheld until they have achieved an ELA TAKS passing score. 
  • Design mini-mesters to maximize hands-on activities and lab work, which tend to engage students more than lectures do.

KNOW THAT THE TEACHER MAKES ALL THE DIFFERENCE

At STC, staff:

  • Move quickly to set up dual enrollment courses (mini-mesters) as soon as interest survey information is received.
  • Work with CCTA and the STC department that houses the requested courses to schedule a class time that works for all.
  • Hire teachers who have an understanding of and empathy for the population.
  • Provide STC teachers with an orientation to the program in which they learn what dual enrollment is about, the services available for the kids, and who the contact people are at both STC and the high school, should any issues arise. 

PROMOTE IDENTIFICATION WITH THE COLLEGE 

At CCTA and STC, staff:

  • Foster an identification with STC in tangible and intangible ways:
  1. By making sure each student has an STC picture ID
  2. By building in the students an expectation that the first course is the the first step to a degree
  3. By explaining the career pathways they have embarked upon and what follows
  4. By finding opportunities while teaching to talk about how the students will move on to certificate Associate's degrees, and Bachelor's degrees

MAKE IT ACCESSIBLE

At CCTA, staff:

  • Arrange for buses to run to and from CCTA to the STC campus.
  •  Immediately call every mini-mester student who is absent from CCTA.
  • Arrange to hold STC classes on the CCTA campus if a large number of students work and need to minimize time spent in commuting from CCTA to STC.

RECOGNIZE THAT STUDENTS ABSORB AND ACT ON INFORMATION AT DIFFERENT TIMES 

At CCTA, staff:

  • Make information available continuously.
  • Provide multiple opportunities to register for college.
  • Organize periodic "one-stop days," run by the STC outreach specialist and held at CCTA. Representatives from STC admissions, financial aid, and student advising set up at CCTA with laptops in hand to help students complete all documentation needed to enroll in the college.
  • Steer students to the GO Center, which makes information available when a student is ready to digest it. CCTA has a GO Center on site, staffed by college students as a volunteer activity, as well as by CCTA staff and the college transition counselor.
  • Demystify college during a weekly mentorship period.

[1] On-site at CCTA, the GO center is staffed by a combination of current college students, a transition counselor, and CCTA staff, to provide information on college to CCTA students.

[2] Only certain courses are available to those who have passed the 10th grade ELA TAKS.

 

TRANSITION COUNSELING

CCTA provides support to students as they transition into South Texas College and into their first year of college. Supports are provided by a transition counselor, a position that is shared with the other PSJA special population high schools (Back on Track schools).   

The transition counselor is based at South Texas College and splits her time between the PSJA campuses and the college. The counselor works with all students to support their transition from high school into college, helping them navigate and resolve school-related, family, or financial issues that may impede their education and advancement. The counselor also identifies issues that cause students to stumble and advocates for changes that will help enable all students from Back on Track schools succeed in college.  (For more details, see “Transition Counselor: Roles and Responsibilities”)

 

KEY PRINCIPLES FOR TRANSITION COUNSELING

START A SUCCESSFUL TRANSITION TO COLLEGE WHILE IN HIGH SCHOOL

The transition counselor splits her time between CCTA and STC; her office at CCTA is the GO Center, a room outfitted with computers and information about colleges and financial aid and decorated with college flags and posters. At the GO Center, students can find whatever they need to know about college in general and specific colleges.

SET INDEPENDENCE AS THE GOAL FOR THE STUDENTS

To foster independence, the CCTA transition counselor helps students identify the services they need and how to access them. She may literally walk a student to the office in question, but the student, not the counselor, interacts with the staff to solve the problem at hand or complete the administrative task. She then debriefs with the student to help them learn from their first experience interacting with college staff. 

DEVELOP THE RELATIONSHIPS NEEDED TO DO THE JOB

The PSJA transition counselor needs good working relationships with anyone that students may need to interact with on the college campus. She also needs to coordinate her work with them and be able to work with them to solve problems. She develops relationships with:

  • The principal at the high school campus
  • The academic counselor at the high school campus
  • The students at the high school and college campuses
  • Admissions, financial aid, and other student support service providers on the college campus
  • College teaching staff responsible for classes that CCTA students attend

 BE FLEXIBLE AND HAVE FLEXIBILITY

The PSJA transition counselor:

  • Keeps a weekly schedule with set times in which she is on each high school or college campus and advertises the schedule among all schools.
  • Is free to respond to last-minute needs. She can alter her schedule as needed to get the work done.
  •  Is creative in devising ways to keep in touch with a population that is notoriously hard to keep track of. Back on Track students often lack cell phones or have only temporary cell phones. The transition counselor:
  1. Searches high school data for family members’ contact information
  2. Remembers who is friends with whom so she can call on informal social networks to convey messages to students
  3. Bends over backwards to stay in touch with students.

SUIT THE SERVICES TO THE POPULATION

While it seems efficient to orient groups of students to financial aid, for example, the reluctance of many students to ask questions in large groups dictates that most of the services be provided one on one.

IDENTIFY PROBLEMS AND CHANGE THE SYSTEM TO ELIMINATE THEM

The CCTA transition counselor sees Back on Track students when they have problems navigating college. Thus, she is well positioned to identify roadblocks to student success and work with the high schools and colleges to address them. For example, it became evident that students did not understand the implications to financial aid of dropping courses. Since everyone at CCTA is responsible for enabling their students to succeed in college, the transition counselor arranged for CCTA staff to be trained about the drop/add system and how it relates to financial aid. Now, during mentor classes, the high school teachers explain this. The students arrive in college with a better understanding of that system and encounter fewer problems as a result.

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