In some Pasco County families, attending college after graduating high school is almost a given. There’s money, opportunity and plenty of options for a student to continue their education.
But in others, college seems like a far-fetched dream. Even before they graduate high school, those students know that the opportunity isn’t there, and that makes it hard to focus on good grades and pursuing whatever options might exist.
“Their parents are like, ‘Well, we don’t have money for this,’ so they’re like OK, there’s no point,” said Lauren Rowold, who graduated from Sunlake High School earlier this year.
Rowold wasn’t one of the students who had given up hope. Unlike some of her peers, she made sure her senior year was spent getting her grades up and preparing for a college career. She also took part in Concept College, a program implemented by Pasco-Hernando State College, designed to help at-risk youth and disadvantaged high school students explore and obtain college opportunities.
Rowold was one of about 600 students per year who participate in the program, which takes them on campus, gives them a firsthand look at college life, answers questions, helps with applications, and explores scholarship opportunities.
Concept College provides some optimism for young people who think college is beyond their grasp, said Maria Hixon, PHSC’s director of development.
“This is really targeting students who need assistance to help make them believe that college is possible for them,” Hixon said. “Sometimes without that direct outreach and personal attention, they kind of fall through the cracks.”
Guidance counselors at the high school level identify juniors and seniors who might be in danger of falling through those cracks and could benefit from the program. Students who are disabled, pregnant, or have discipline problems or economic disadvantages, are among those who might qualify. An advisor from the college then visits the high school to provide confidence-building exercises, and those who join the program schedule a visit to either the Dade City or New Port Richey campus that normally lasts more than two hours.
On campus, students tour the school, ask questions and take assessment tests. They also learn about the admissions process, degree paths and financial aid.
Concept College also helps students take their first steps toward attending college, HIxon said. The program helps them with the application process, including paying their $25 application fee. It’s a small amount, but it can make a difference, she said.
That’s not the only financial assistance, however. Participants can apply for scholarships, which vary each year based on how many students enroll and apply, and how much financial support the program gets.
The dollar amount usually ranges between $500 and $1,000 per year, Hixon said. At a school where a 12-credit, full-time schedule costs around $1,100, it can make a transition into college smoother for those who see the cost as a significant obstacle.
Over the years, the program has reached every high school in Pasco County and a couple in Hernando County as well. And it’s all done on a budget of around $10,000 per year.
The program relies on private donations to keep going, Hixon said, with Wells Fargo and the Tampa Bay Rays standing out as major contributors this year. The baseball team presented the school with a $5,000 donation this summer as part of their Rays Baseball Foundation Community Grant Program.
“For what it costs, we do a lot with very little, and it yields a lot of impact for the students,” Hixon said. “It’s a wonderful program.”
And Rowold agrees. After participating in Concept College, she enrolled at PHSC, and will begin pursuit of her associate’s degree in just a couple of weeks. After graduation she plans to enter the medical field.
The program was helpful, Rowold said, and could impact even more students by reaching them earlier so they can be motivated to improve their grades and prepare for a chance they didn’t know they had.
And while she’s excited about starting college, she’s not really nervous. Rowold said she was prepared well by Concept College, and everything was explained to her before she enrolled.
“It answered all my questions,” Rowold said. “I always had questions about it, but I didn’t know who to ask. I felt like I learned a lot.”
Published August 20, 2014
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