Hundreds of counselors and college professionals are getting more support as they work harder to get students into college amid declining enrollment at institutions of higher learning during the coronavirus pandemic.
College enrollment took a 3% hit during the current academic year and two-year institutions suffered a much sharper 8% decline, says the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. TxCan, an Educate Texas initiative, also reports October data showing Texas at a 17 percent Free Application for Federal Student Aid completion rate, a 3 percent decrease from last year.
That’s left educators scrambling for a way to hold the line during the COVID-19 pandemic. A new coalition of more than 700 counselors and college access professionals aims to provide more support for school counselors in Texas who need to reach prospective college students.
According to the Texas Education Agency, 354,312 seniors were enrolled in Texas public schools during the 2019-2020 school year. John Fitzpatrick, executive director of the education nonprofit Educate Texas, says safety protocols to stop the spread of COVID-19 in public schools are limiting counselors in how they can reach these students.
“Our high school counselors and college admissions officers are working so hard to engage these 350,000 students,” said Fitzpatrick. “But as all of us are experiencing, it’s incredibly hard in the time of COVID. A year ago it was really easy to find a high school senior in the hall at school, but now the student may not even be in the building.”
This is where the new statewide Future Focused Texas campaign comes in, Fitzpatrick said at a Tuesday news conference announcing the initiative. With the help of the higher education coordinating board and Educate Texas, the effort seeks to get data and resources into the hands of counselors now mostly limited to online access to students.
“Every week, we are curating timely and compelling content for them to share with students, we are giving them cut and paste handouts, resources, website communications, that make it easier for them to communicate with students virtually,” said Fitzpatrick. “We are particularly focused on many of our small rural districts that have even fewer resources and we are trying to do everything from helping with (federal student aid) completion efforts to engaging students.”
Fitzpatrick says 25,000 visits to the new coalition’s websites shows its efforts are working.
The free research-based digital content for school counselors to help their students graduate and enroll in college is provided through a partnership led by Get Schooled and Educate Texas/TxCAN, as well as the higher education board, Texas OnCourse, United College for Success, and College Forward.
Future Focused Texas is also delivering tips and tricks to students via social media to guide them through the college application process.
To directly engage students, the higher education board created a virtual advising project that includes a chatbot feature, called ADVi, that reaches students via text messaging.
“We have advisors that are trained and funded by the College Advising Corps and the state of Texas to