Using Work-Study to Help Students Who Need Guidance

Mar 22, 2012Angela Choi

classroom 309As part of the 10 Ideas: A Millennial Lesson Plan for Education series, a proposal that would reward student mentors and help more young Americans prepare for college.

According to the Board of Regents, only 23 percent of high school students in New York City graduated ready for college or careers in 2009, and Rachel Cromidas of Gotham Schools reports that only 13 percent of black and Hispanic students were prepared. Through research at various New York City public high schools, our policy team at the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network (including Maryam Aleem, Oronde Tennant, Yahanna Jenkins, Silvia Durango, and myself) found that there are far too few college preparedness programs available to meet the needs of students.

To cite a personal example, I did not meet with my guidance counselor until my senior year at Bayside High School in Queens. I had an extremely difficult time applying to colleges because my guidance counselor was seldom available to assist me due to the copious amounts of students scheduled to see her. When I finally met with her, our meeting was rushed because she had to meet with so many other students after me. If it were not for my parents assisting me with my college applications, I would have never completed them.

I was lucky to have parents who were able to devote attention to my education. Unfortunately, there are many students who are not so lucky. Some of these students come from low-income communities or first generation families in which parents work two or three jobs and do not have the time to provide necessary assistance. The predominantly African American and Hispanic students who come from these communities struggle to close the achievement gap due to wide disparities in educational resources. Additionally, the city's public high school students tend to be less advantaged than the average private school student and do not have the specialized attention and support needed to apply to colleges and prepare for career readiness.

Having experienced these problems firsthand, our policy team wanted to make guidance more accessible to students applying to college and bring awareness to the achievement gap in private and public high schools in New York City. In order to do this, we have proposed a program that would allow college students to obtain work-study credit for mentoring high school students.

In an effort to gain further insight into the achievement gap and the necessity for further support, our policy team interviewed Gerry Menegatos, who is both an assistant principal and guidance counselor at A. Philip Randolph High School near the City College campus. Our research revealed that there was only one college guidance counselor for 500 seniors, which exceeds the 250 students-to-one guidance counselor minimum ratio established by the National School Counseling Association.

According to Menegatos, students have to wait up to two weeks to see a guidance counselor because of his heavy caseload. Imagine if you were a first generation student or a black or Hispanic student in need of some direction for applying to college or scholarship opportunities and found that help impossible to obtain. Not only do students have an extended wait time, but the average guidance counselor only provides 38 minutes of college advisement per student per year, according to a Department of Education study. A lower student-to-counselor ratio that reduces the case load of counselors could result in more students from New York City public schools going on to two- and four-year colleges.

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There are several college mentorship programs throughout New York City, such as the Student Success Center and Latino Youth for Higher Education, which provide mentorship services to high school students. However, in most cases, mentors do not receive financial support for participating in these programs despite the fact that mentorship is a cost-effective tool that could provide professional development and personal growth for students. This was the purpose behind the creation of Federal Work-Study, a federally funded program that assists college students who work part-time at college campuses to develop career readiness skills.

College students possess valuable knowledge that they can pass on to high school seniors and juniors when applying to colleges, so recruiting them to serve as mentors could be an effective way of raising the number of college- and career-ready students in the United States. Furthermore, mentoring programs can empower students to serve their communities and reduce the work of over-stretched counselors. Therefore, we propose that colleges in New York City partner with low-performing high schools and organizations like National College Advising Corp to establish mentorship programs.

According to a study in Mentoring & Tutoring Journal, "at the end of the one-year mentoring experience, mentored students had a higher GPA, completed more units, and had a higher retention rate." Since Federal Work-Study delivers over "$1 billion in funds to nearly 700,000 students each year," according to an article by Thomas Bailey, "Strategies for Increasing Student Success," Federal Work-Study can utilize this fund to create an effective mentorship program. Students who receive work-study funds would be encouraged to apply to important leadership roles, as opposed to the usual, mundane administrative jobs they are often required to perform under work-study.

College mentors would be required to commit one year to high school students. Training would be mandatory to ensure mentor proficiency. Qualified mentors would receive work-study funds and applicants who do not pass the initial training session would receive school credit for training and mentorship. High school juniors and seniors who participated in the mentorship program could also become mentors to sophomores and freshmen and receive community service credit for school as well as recognition when applying to college. Additionally, all mentors would receive the personal benefit that comes from giving back and providing solutions to the disparities that exist in the U.S. educational system.

We have already convinced the City College of New York to partner with a low-performing high school nearby to create a pilot for this proposed mentorship program. College students will be allowed to receive work-study funds for mentoring high school students throughout the college application process. Ultimately, we hope to expand this program throughout New York City.

Angela Choi is a Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network member and a student at City College of New York, where she studies political science and public policy.

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