• by Hector Bojorquez • IDRA Newsletter • June – July 2014 •
Consider this scenario: Mario Contreras, who is the first in his family to attend college (a “first-time-in-college” student), attends his first day of class and is told by his professor that his name is not on the class roster. Mario assumes that it is a small glitch and goes to his next class and is, again, told that he is not registered. He begins to panic and goes to the admissions office.
The lines are long because it is the beginning of the semester and many students have questions. After a 45-minute wait, he learns he is in the wrong line. He is sent to the registrar’s office where, after a two-hour wait, he is told that there is a hold on his records. He goes to the financial aid office and, after more waiting, is told to come back the next day.
Mario does so and the problem is resolved. But they mention that if he had come later in the week, it would have been too late and he would have had to wait until spring to register for classes.
Mario was lucky. The unfortunate fact is that many students are not so lucky and, because of mix-ups, miscommunication and general bureaucratic issues, a high percentage of students simply “stop-out.”
It would seem that in this day and age of high tech solutions, dilemmas like these wouldn’t happen with such great frequency. Yet, as any first-year college student will tell you, it happens all the time. The preceding scenario is actually one of the simpler problems that students encounter but that take a maddeningly long time to solve.
Students are hit with much more complex problems ranging from arcane ID systems, to class counseling mix-ups, incorrect schedules, random holds on financial aid, etc. If most services and institutions that adults deal with were as complex as college systems, very few of us would have checking accounts, utilities, cable or even a library card.
Yet, many of our students are presented with badly-organized bureaucracies and outdated modes of communication in their quest for a college education.
Now consider an alternative scenario: Anna Reyes, a student at a Lower Rio Grande Valley college in Texas, arrives for the first time on campus and goes directly to her first class. She is excited, prepared and ready for this new journey. But the professor says that she is not on the roster. As Anna investigates the problem, she finds out that a delay in financial aid approval has caused the computer system to drop all her classes. Anna does not panic. She takes out her smart phone, clicks on “CollegeLink,” a new IDRA app being piloted in the area, and sends a message to her counselors who immediately tell her to log back in to the college’s financial aid web site and to click “accept” for her financial aid. The counselor tells her that now she should come in to her office to re-enroll in the classes she had registered for. The crisis has been addressed in a short period of time. The counselor sends Anna a calendar notice that will alert her of the date and time they are to meet. The counselor decides to send out an alert to all her students, reminding them of some crucial steps they must take before attending their first day of class.
This is the vision being ushered in for students in the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo school district (PSJA) who are attending South Texas College and the University of Texas at Pan American. Students are beginning to use the CollegeLink app designed by IDRA to assist transition counselors as they help students navigate the confusing and unnecessarily complex systems at institutions of higher education.
This app is the result of IDRA’s collaboration with PSJA, a school district that has taken on the responsibility for student success beyond high school graduation to college and beyond. It is the result of shared vision between IDRA and PSJA. At PSJA, a shift in perspective has occurred that has resulted in new challenges, new solutions and, ultimately, success. A complete account of their transformation can be found in IDRA’s recent report, College Bound and Determined.
Both IDRA and PSJA believe that all students should be afforded a college-going future and that our educational institutions must change to ensure that all students are college and career ready. It is with these two understandings in mind that PSJA began a program where counselors from the district are housed at local colleges to assist former high school students as they transition to college.
This has, in actuality, signaled a complete change in the nature of the relationship between public education and students. In this new educational model, public schools extend their influence beyond 12th grade and reshape how they serve students. IDRA’s own asset-based recommended practices and programs are grounded in the notion that institutions must change themselves rather than trying to change students.
Through those shared values, IDRA designed CollegeLink, which is a student-centered, counseling communication mobile app that enables counselors to help students more efficiently. This app was designed to help PSJA’s transition counselors communicate with their “case load” so that more PSJA students would make it through that crucial first year.
The app is designed to be simple, elegant and intuitive. Because the app collects information about the nature of the problems being consulted on, data are continuously being compiled that can be used to identify areas of concern. The app’s features are as follows.
- Students are able to send messages to counselors through a tool that resembles chat rather than email. This function is key because it leverages students’ familiarity with social media. It also helps counselors keep a record of communication in a more organized way than long email conversations that don’t document the nature of the discussion.
- Counselors communicate with students through an administrator portal where they can receive and send messages.
- Counselors can communicate with students through mass and individual messages.
- All contact is automatically logged through a web-based system.
- Counselors can send alerts to all students.
- Counselors can set up calendar events.
- All communications show up as notifications on students’ smart phones so that communications aren’t missed.
- Counselors can review data on the kinds of issues that should be pro-actively addressed as well as simply documenting the conversations themselves.
- The app is available for both Android and iPhone devices.
After a pilot phase, PSJA is poised to make the app available to all graduating high school students. This communication system holds the promise to transform the way in which counselors and students communicate. This tool is quickly garnering interest from colleges across the state and country that are looking for ways to deepen their engagement with students. If you are interested in a demo of this app please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bojorquez, H. College Bound and Determined (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, 2014).
Hector Bojorquez is an education associate in IDRA Field Services. Comments and questions may be directed to him via email at email@example.com.
[©2014, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the June-July 2014 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]