College is possible.
That’s the message a group of rising seniors from Minnesota heard Monday during the state’s inaugural Camp College. The two-day event, which continues today, is part of a larger push by NACAC affiliates to help first-generation and other underserved students learn more about the higher education options available to them.
“We know that, oftentimes, these students struggle when it comes to navigating the college application and admission process,” said counselor Samantha Savoie, a member of the Minnesota Association for College Admission Counseling and one of the camp’s organizers. “We want to show them that even if they have obstacles to overcome, they can still be great candidates for college.”
The purpose of the camp, offered to students at no cost, is two-fold. First and foremost, it provides participants a peek at the steps they need to take during their senior year of high school to gain admission to a postsecondary institution. Students attend a miniature college fair, get a jumpstart on crafting their college essay, and are assigned a mentor who will assist them in the college admission process throughout the coming year.
But just as important, say organizers, is the fact that the event is held on the campus of Bethany Lutheran College, a private liberal arts school in Mankato, Minn.
“(Camp participants) sleep in the dorms, they eat in the cafeteria — all those college student experiences,” said Laura Horton, a University of Minnesota admission officer who is helping coordinate the event. “We want to give them that feeling of: Yes, I could see myself on a college campus next year and in the future.”
All Camp College attendees are either first-generation or minority students. Many live in rural communities or hail from schools with high student-to-counselor ratios.
State data show that Minnesota public schools are severely understaffed, with only one counselor for every 792 students. That’s well above the national student-to-counselor average of 471-to-1, and even further from the recommended ratio of 250 students for every one counselor.
Community-based organizations aimed at promoting college access help address that disparity in the state’s metro area, but fewer resources exist in Minnesota’s rural communities, Savoie said.
“This is one way we’re trying to fill that gap,” she noted.
Similar Camp College programs are being offered by nine NACAC affiliates this summer, according to internal survey results. The program has been promoted by NACAC’s Inclusion, Access and Success Committee, with best practices shared during national conference calls with state affiliates.
In Minnesota, organizers are hopeful that Camp College will become an annual event.
“We want to make sure that all kids are on the same playing field,” Savoie said. “Camp College is one way to do that.”
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