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Oregon Community Colleges Spring Into Action to Help More Students Make a Postsecondary Plan

By: Rosa Maria Banuelos-Uribe, admissions and recruitment coordinator, Lane Community College, and Tiffany Malsberger, transition specialist, Rogue Community College

Since 2012, more than 200 of Oregon’s high schools have hosted College Application Week as a part of the American College Application Campaign. As college admissions professionals, we have supported these efforts, volunteering at high schools in our districts and helping students submit their applications. These November events serve many students well. However, we know that – for a variety of reasons – not all students are ready to decide that early. We have a responsibility to present students with other options and opportunities to seek other paths toward college.

For us, this means continued presence and support at the high schools beyond fall programming. Through unique college-based programs taking place in the spring, Oregon’s community colleges have been able to show more students who may have been deterred that there’s still time to pursue their postsecondary plans.

We believe that any college – two- or four-year – that still has room in its incoming classes should consider offering similar information sessions and application and financial aid support during the spring months. This approach meets the students where they are and sends a clear message that they are right on time in their college preparations. It’s especially powerful when institutions can collaborate with organizations in their area to amplify that message.

For us, the seeds were planted in winter 2020, when we met with our colleagues from other Oregon community colleges and our partners at Oregon GEAR UP/Oregon Goes To College to discuss the realities of enrollment at our institutions. As is true across the country, Oregon’s higher education enrollment is lower now than before the COVID-19 pandemic. While the total headcount stabilized between fall 2020 and 2021, the decline since 2019 has been significantly greater at our community colleges (24.9%) than our four-year institutions (4.3%).

We shared our experiences in working with students who were contemplating their futures: Students seemed less inclined to enroll in college because they were so uncertain of what school would look like. The experience of switching from in-person to virtual learning and back again had taken a toll. For many, it seemed more stable to enter the workforce and start earning money than risk starting school and having to switch learning environments.

We brainstormed how we could reach the students who were just waking up and blooming in the spring, and those who were wavering about continuing their education because of the pandemic. We considered how we could serve students who may have initially planned to pursue a four-year path but whose plans had changed since the fall. The fact that community college admissions deadlines are often more flexible, admitting students up until the first week of school, offered us an opportunity to remind students that it is never too late to Spring Into Action and make a plan for education beyond high school.

So, along with our colleagues, we immediately began developing a new statewide initiative specifically designed to meet the needs of 12th graders who did not yet have a plan. We agreed to host presentations about our institutions’ programs and workshops to assist students with applying for admissions and financial aid, including the Oregon Promise grant. Unlike the fall events that do these same things and are hosted by high schools, Spring Into Action is hosted by the colleges, on our campuses or in our Zoom rooms. Because community college representatives can’t always travel throughout the state, we wanted to develop a structure that allowed students and counselors outside of our service district to participate in our events.

Once we had a structure, we needed to choose the right timing. We were mindful that by May, fall registration is open at all Oregon community colleges. Also, Oregon high schools host Decision Day on or around May 1, and we wanted to ensure that students who participated in our workshops would be celebrated along with their peers who had made decisions earlier.

With National Community College Month falling in April, the pieces fell into place. Along with our colleagues from the other community colleges in the state, we were able to increase our outreach virtually to those students and schools who may not ever appear in person or reach out to us. Now, we are preparing in-person presentations and workshops for the second annual Spring Into Action this month, from April 11-29.

By offering this programming during the spring months and collaborating with organizations like Oregon GEAR UP/Oregon Goes To College, institutions can remind students that there’s always still time to apply, and we’re all in this together. The collaboration benefits all of us as we learn from each other as professionals. Importantly, this work also helps us be better informed about our peer institutions, allowing us to refer students and families to programs around the state that might be a good fit for them.

Complementing the traditional fall College Application Week with springtime events is another way to encourage more students to have a postsecondary plan, a goal that has become even more crucial amid disruptions and challenges exacerbated by the pandemic. We are proud of Oregon’s community colleges for recognizing that this is a year-round job – and for springing into action to better support our students.