The Georgia Appalachian Center for Higher Education (GACHE) brought 240 high school students and parents to two, one-day College Access Conferences held at the University of North Georgia designed to expose them to college opportunities and discuss paths to earning a college degree.
Students from Banks, Fannin, Hall, and Lumpkin counties spent the day hearing information about financial aid and college admission processes, but also specific information about academic programs offered by UNG.
If your goal is to get a bachelor's degree, but you don't have the grades and the SAT or ACT scores to gain admission into a bachelor's degree program, you can still come to UNG, a four-year university, by starting an associate degree program and transitioning seamlessly into a bachelor's program," said Keith Antonia, executive director of undergraduate admissions.
The daylong events on the Dahlonega Campus connected students and their parents – sometimes in separate sessions – with representatives from UNG admissions, financial aid, and first year experience. The day included campus tours, lunch at the university dining hall and interaction with UNG student leaders to provide exposure to college life.
College guidance counselors and graduation coaches, like Jill Key, Judy Lambeth, Sally Edwards, and Lynn Suggs find events like GACHE’s College Access Conference very beneficial. They attended both sessions with students and their parents.
The conferences were sponsored by the Georgia Appalachian Center for Higher Education (GACHE) and grants from Communities in Schools and the College Access Challenge Grant. Many of the students who attended were potential first-generation college-going students.
When first-generation students experience being on a college campus and seeing and talking to students just like them, they begin to think about college as a possibility," said Shirley Davis, GACHE director. "When teachers and parents have higher expectations of students and begin to talk to them about going to college, it really pays off in whether or not the students see themselves as college material.
Enhancing partnerships with k-12 schools and improving access and completion for students traditionally underserved are not only GACHE goals, but also of UNG's Complete College Georgia plan. In a 2011 study it was reported that Georgia will need to increase the percentage of its population with some level of college completion to 60 percent to meet projected workforce needs.
During the eight years GACHE has been funding events like the College Access Conference throughout Georgia's Appalachian High Schools, we have collected data that shows an increase in the college enrollment rates of these high schools," Davis said. "We plan to continue these very important events as long as funding allows.
Jill Key, Fannin County Graduation Coach, said she feels working with GACHE on events to expose high school students to college opportunities is having a positive effect.
"I've worked with GACHE for eight years and, to me, I think these events have been a factor in helping our graduation rate. When I first started, our graduation rate was 65 percent, and now we're at 91 percent," she said. "There are a lot of factors, but when the students visit colleges, they think 'I want to go there!' and it inspires them to do better so they can finish high school and go to college."