12:00 AM

Ohio State taps students to become "Access Advocates"

Ohio State is hoping to mobilize its biggest resource – students – in the quest to encourage young, low-income students to consider college.

The university is enlisting students as Access Advocates to spread the word to younger students and families about what it's like to go to college. The plan is the newest strategy in Ohio State's toolbox for reaching young, low-income students with information about what they need to do to go to college.

"We've determined that the best messengers to younger children are college students themselves," said Tally Hart, director of Ohio State's Economic Access Initiative. The idea to enlist Ohio State students as advocates was sparked by research at the Lumina Foundation that suggests traditional avenues for communication on higher education have changed.

Created in 2006, the Economic Access Initiative works to ensure all qualified students, regardless of income, can make the dream of college a reality. Initiatives are designed to encourage low-income and first-generation students participate and succeed in higher education.

Hart says it's important to get information about what it takes to go to college to families before high school, and even before middle school. "It's critical that they begin to focus early on what courses to take starting as early as middle school. And it's more palatable when they hear it from someone closer to their own age."

In families with some college history, parents are the ones who gather the information and guide the process. They advise their children on how to take the steps that will lead to college. But in families with little or no history, parents depend on their children to learn about what's needed for college.

The first big effort to enlist Ohio State students as access advocates will come on Sept. 23, during the university's annual Community Commitment Day of Service, one of the largest single-day community service events on a college campus in the country. Approximately 1,500 students are expected to participate in the event, which will direct volunteer efforts at sites serving children in the community.

Community Commitment is one of several Welcome Week events at Ohio State designed to welcome students to campus and a new academic year. Cristen Porter, coordinator of community service in the Office of Student Life, says the project this year is designed to concentrate on child advocacy issues such as equal access to education and creating suitable living and learning environments.

"We are making the children of our community the focus for the Community Commitment event," said Porter. "Our students will learn that their service can have a lasting and meaningful impact and on the community, and on the children of Columbus."

Before they leave campus, Hart will spend a few minute training the volunteers on how to offer access messages when they are in the community and working with young people.

The Ohio State students will all wear t-shirts that say "KnowHow2Go? Find out what it takes to go to college" on the back.

Nationally and statewide, there is a network of organizations that work on college access issues. KnowHow2Go is a multi-year college access campaign created by the American Council on Education, Lumina Foundation for Education and the Ad Council.

There are additional plans to multiply the message. After Community Commitment, the students will be asked, when they go home for Thanksgiving, to talk to at least one person about how to get to college.

Hart says it's important to reach young people in the state because our economy needs every bright mind it can get.

Ohio State has been asking applicants since 2003 whether they were "first generation," or first in their family to graduate from college. "We use definition of neither parents has graduated because Ohio has a large group of adults in the parent generation who have dropped out," says Hart. "So our students are defined by whether their parents didn't finish or didn't go."