- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 8, 2015

ST. LOUIS (AP) - Many low-income high school seniors who have been accepted to a university or college never embark on their higher education journey, but a program in St. Louis is working to change that.

High school principals and community leaders say the once-incoming university freshmen miss their first step to higher education because of missed financial aid deadlines or because they simply don’t have enough money to make the trip to campus, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (https://bit.ly/1NniCEw ) reported.

Data from the state department of education shows a six-month check on the class of 2014 showed about 27 percent of graduates from St. Louis Public Schools who had planned on attending college or other post-secondary education or training were no longer doing so.

Counselors with College Bound are working to provide high school students who have a financial need and who would be the first person in their family to attend college with the support necessary to help them get to a university.

The program began nine years ago and started with two school districts and 36 students, but has now grown to serve students in dozens of districts.

Executive Director Scott Baier said the caring relationships that grow over the years between students and the program’s staff gives the students more perspective when choosing a college, guiding them to choices that better fit their needs and tempering that with honesty and understanding.

ZeCora Smith participated in College Bound and now attends Washington University in St. Louis. She said she always knew she would go to college, but that when she envisioned herself there, it was never at a place like where she’s at now.

“She deserved to be at an elite university,” Baier said of Smith. “The first thing we did for her as a sophomore was convince her of that.”

When students leave for college, the program’s counselors still stay connected with students. It’s important for first-generation college students who don’t have family who have experienced the transition and growing pains of college.

Still, Smith said the transition to the college has had its stresses.

“It’s definitely different and takes some getting used to,” she said. “I’m used to being a big fish in a little pond. Now, it’s the opposite.”

She acknowledges that she has thought about transferring to a place where she’s more comfortable, but that she won’t.

“Sometimes easy isn’t the best,” she said. “You have to push through.”

Her goal is to lead a nonprofit organization one day for underprivileged children to express themselves through art.


Information from: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, https://www.stltoday.com

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