Photo: U. of Colorado at Boulder

Perceptions and reality in college admissions

This item appeared in Beyond High School, a Chalkbeat newsletter by Jason Gonzales about college-going in Colorado. Sign up for your own copy here.


Hi, everyone. Welcome back to this month’s Beyond High School newsletter.

When Ariana Rodriguez applied to Colorado colleges, what stood out to her was how little she could find about people like herself — a Latina and first-generation college student.

Campus tours and Google searches yielded little information about how Colorado would embrace her, she said. She looked for diversity rates, programs, and scholarships.

“I didn’t feel welcome,” she said. “So why would I want to go?”

Rodriguez, 18, who graduated from Aurora’s Vista Peak Preparatory, eventually chose to enroll thousands of miles away at Pace University in New York City because staff there made her feel like she belonged. When they reached out to her, they immediately explained the services they provided for students who were the first in their family to go to college. They offered her scholarships. She felt welcome.

Last week, I reported on the impact of Colorado’s new law banning legacy admissions at public universities. Advocates said the ban will help low-income and first-generation students see Colorado universities as open to them.

But Rodriguez’s story emphasized that while perception matters, so does the process that gets a student in the door. And it made me wonder what’s next in the push to get more Colorado students into college. Because students like Rodriguez face cultural and financial barriers. And advocates say they see the legacy ban as a start to a greater conversation.

Janiece Mackey, the founder of Denver-area yaaspa, said legacy admissions presented only a small barrier. Most of the students she works with at the nonprofit, which helps students become civically and politically engaged, don’t think about legacy admissions. Rodriguez, for instance, didn’t even know what the phrase meant.

Instead, Mackey said, students see debt as the biggest barrier. And she wants colleges to understand students need individualized support that sometimes ranges from trying to understand the campus to helping with family issues. Students need to be advised at an early age what options make the most sense for them financially, Mackey said, including hearing that community colleges are a viable option.

Keelie Gray, 20, said she went to community college because the cost of going to a four-year in Colorado was prohibitive. It was a decision she made after talking with her family, not a counselor.

She will start at the University of Colorado Denver in the fall to pursue a political science degree. She graduated without debt from the Community College of Aurora.

Gray said student decisions when and where to go to college are individualized. And schools also should be taking an inward look at what’s keeping students from fulfilling their dreams, she said.

Also, before I let you go, I could use your help: I’m looking to track down former Colorado college students who may have run into trouble accessing their transcripts due to unpaid bills.

The Hechinger Report and Boston’s GBH News published an eye opening March report that detailed how almost 100,000 Massachusetts residents couldn’t get their transcripts because they still owed the college money — sometimes the bills are as small as $25 and include tuition, board, parking tickets, and library fines. Nationwide, this affects over 6.6 million former students.

And we’d love your thoughts on how we’re doing. Please take three minutes to complete our Beyond High School feedback survey.

Please get in touch. Reach me on Twitter at @ByJasonGonzales or via email at jgonzales@chalkbeat.org.

Jason Gonzales covers higher education for Chalkbeat Colorado, in partnership with Open Campus.

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