The Common App.
The list of acronyms that are necessary for you to understand in order to navigate the college application process is enough to confuse families with parents who have themselves been to college. For first generation students, that is, students whose parents have not attended college, this confusion can be compounded. Especially in San José, where thirty-nine percent of residents were born in another country, first generation students may come from families that don’t speak English at home, or from cultures outside of the United States with different education systems.
Fernanda Karp (pictured above), Director of Government and Community Relations at San José State University (SJSU), adds that: “Parents and guardians want their children to have a better chance to succeed in life, and they know that the key to such success is through the attainment of a college education and a degree. They want to help their children but don’t know how or where to find the resources. That’s why events like the Family and Community College Day Conference, the Advancing Latino/a Achievement and Success (ALAS) Conference and the African American College Readiness Program are absolutely relevant and necessary to support and develop a college-going culture among underserved communities.”
For these young people, questions such as: where to apply to college, whether to leave the family, and how they will finance tuition can seem like daunting questions. Potential college-going youth and their families should not be left unsupported in answering these questions. So, the bigger question becomes, how can colleges and universities support students in the community in which they are based, especially those who will be first generation students?
San José State has taken big steps to support San José elementary, middle, and high-school aged students be prepared for college. In 2011, SJSU become involved with the county-wide efforts of College Day, a day-long event that brings conversations about college into local schools—fostering a college-going culture in the area. A year later, in 2012, SJSU decided to host part of College Day on campus, in order to display the universities commitment to local students.
Fernanda Karp talks about a transformative experience she had at that event:
We had our “College Day Kick-Off” event that year and invited current first generation SJSU students to talk to a group of 110 elementary school students about their experiences in college. At this event, one of the student speakers was a woman who had been a young mother, and whose son was actually in attendance at the event. As she began to talk about her own life and the difficulties she had to face while growing up in San José, a light clicked for me. Her son was learning about her educational journey while in a college campus surrounded by a community of folks who shared similar stories! It was clear to me that as a public institution of higher learning, SJSU needed to establish a space where more parents could have conversations with their kids about them going to college.
True to this vision, last year through the initiative of Fernanda Karp, her community partners and her colleagues within the Division of Student Affairs, San José State hosted its first Family and Community Engagement Conference as part of College Day. With the theme of “there is always a way to pay,” parents and students alike could attend a free, daylong conference to learn about what they needed to know in order to make financing college possible. With translations in both Spanish and Vietnamese, these sessions were accessible to parents who might not be able to use other resources because of language barriers.
In addition, high school students could actually fill out college applications in College Day computer labs, assisted by college representatives from CSU and UC schools. In fact, of the 120 high school students that visited the computer labs that day, sixty percent were able to complete at least one application. And possibly most important, many families who live in San José but who had not stepped foot on campus (a whopping 78% percent, 2013 College Day surveys found), were able to explore the University through workshops held in buildings and rooms throughout the campus.
This year, the Family and Community Engagement conference will be held on November 1st. Promising to be even better than last year, this conference will hold workshops led in Vietnamese and Spanish. In addition, the workshops will introduce elementary, middle and high school readiness tracks, so parents with youth of these ages will know the pertinent preparedness steps they should be taking.
While the notion of breaking down the Ivory Tower among higher ed institutions is not new, universities around the country have been making different headway in supporting the needs of their local community. Given this trend, its heartening to see that SJSU is paying close attention to the specific needs of the San José community in its front yard and working to foster a college-going culture in San José.
CommUniverCity San José is excited to partner with College Day and San José State University to spark those conversations that inspire San José youth to include college as part of the future goals. To learn more about College Day and how you can be part of the effort to inspire a college-going culture in San José and Santa Clara County please visit collegeday.org. Photo Credit: Fahteen Kahn.