A Direct Link

Low-income children with access to the Internet on mobile phones have college readiness help.

GUEST COLUMN | by Keith Frome

CREDIT College SummitMore than 28 million children who qualify for free or reduced-priced school lunches in the United States will not graduate from college by the time they are 25. Making it to, and through, college is a complex process, and students face a variety of barriers. Most students, though, do have the desire to succeed in college and careers — they simply don’t know how to navigate the pathway. For these students, a set of tools to help may already be in their hands.

More than 20 million low-income children will grow up with access to the Internet on mobile phones, and those cellphones and other devices can now provide them a direct link to higher education.

More than 20 million low-income children will grow up with access to the Internet on mobile phones, and those cellphones and other devices can now provide them a direct link to higher education.

At College Summit, a nonprofit that empowers low-income students to forge their educational futures, we know that the path to college is neither easy nor intuitive, especially for a teen whose family members and friends have not pursued postsecondary education. For these students especially, teachers and guidance counselors are often the sole source of educational support and direction — but with an average ratio of 457 students per guidance counselor, ushering every student through the college application process is nothing short of impossible. How do we provide the nurturing and necessary nagging every student needs to make it to and through college?

College Summit saw an opportunity to answer this question through a medium with which students have boundless expertise: the Internet. That means for those who have an easier time obtaining a cellphone than they do academic resources and encouragement, the Internet may be the new great equalizer.

Enter CollegeAppMap.org, with free and near-free apps that help students and their families navigate the college application process through high school and beyond. Its mobile and Web-based apps were developed through the College Knowledge Challenge, a competition run by College Summit and the King Center Charter School with technical input from Facebook and financing from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Technology can’t replace the personal touch of a guidance counselor, but placing digital tools for success in the hands of students — and their counselors — is a powerful opportunity to solve the nettlesome problem of educational inequity. Even guidance counselors who are tech-weary from the overwhelming number of online teaching tools can benefit from College App Map, which aggregates the best of the best. Consider Zombie College, an app that helps students learn about the milestones necessary for college access through a stimulating and entertaining game; College Abacus, a one-stop “real price” calculator for college costs; and What’s Your Road, an app that matches high school students with profiles and advice from professionals who have experienced similar life journeys.

But even the best of the best can’t help if no one knows about them. Reversing the traditional educational equation, College Summit is planning a series of forums in which students will train counselors on how to use technology to help all the students they teach and advise achieve college success — what we’re calling the App-a-thons.

Financed, in part, by the generous Bezos Family Foundation, the App-a-thons — held in cities across the U.S. — will provide a platform for high school students to introduce counselors to this new generation of college accessibility tools. This year, 200 low-income students will train 500 educators who together serve more than 100,000 students nationwide. These educators will take the College App Map tools back to their schools to spread the word about them among their students, who will share them with their friends, classmates, and families — as they would any other cool new app. This multiplier effect has the potential to impact thousands and thousands of students just this year alone.

Although College Summit helps upward of 50,000 low-income students each year around the country, there are millions more who don’t get to benefit from our high-touch program. This is why we are so excited to scale our efforts through App-a-thons and our support and curation of the burgeoning field of college access and success apps.

For the past 20 years, College Summit’s goal has been to empower students to be agents of change for themselves, their peers, and their communities — for decades to come, these apps, as well as new, innovative ones that will come on the market, will teach even more young people than we could have ever imagined the power of self-efficacy, the importance of education, and the beauty of navigating your own life.

Keith Frome is the co-founder of College Summit, Inc., and Executive Director of King Center Charter School.

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