We often think of the obstacles that prevent students from attending college as being financial—and I am not discounting the importance of cost as a barrier—but there are also social, cultural, and informational roadblocks for students. A few weeks ago, the education advocacy group Complete Tennessee released its Room to Grow: State of Higher Education in Tennessee report. The report is based on the findings of a listening tour the group conducted throughout the state.
One notable finding in the report is the “invisible” barrier to college attendance: There is a lack of information about college and no context on how to navigate the system for students. As a first-generation college student, I had never heard the term Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) until my second year at North Carolina State University and had no real understanding of the culture of college. It’s hard to imagine this lack of knowledge with the access high school students today have to information, but Complete Tennessee found it in rural areas.
The good news is solutions are being created to address these problems. As the Complete Tennessee report notes, there are informational programs being implemented to help families understand and navigate the application landscape, and quite frankly, to speak the higher-education language.
There have been great strides made since I began college as a clueless 18-year old more than 20 years ago, but, as the Complete Tennessee report shows, there is still a lot of work to be done.