University aims to increase college acceptance rate among city students

The University’s Urban Education Institute will launch a social networking site aimed at keeping more city students in school.

By Tarah Hearns

The University’s Urban Education Institute will launch an internet-based outreach program this January aimed at increasing the number of Chicago Public School (CPS) students who attend and complete college.

Rob Schnieders, director of national engagement at the Urban Education Institute, said that the main goal of the program, called “6 to 16,” is to prepare both students and faculty from high schools for the college application process by using an already-familiar tool: social networking.

According to Schnieders, one of the primary obstacles to academic success is the low adviser-to-student ratio in Chicago’s public schools—as low as one to 400 in some cases. He explained that without substantial adviser attention, students might find themselves at a loss in choosing which schools to apply to or attend. To address that problem, “6 to 16” will use social networking to pair students with teachers, friends, and community members who can also serve as advisers.

The program’s website is easily navigable for anyone who familiar with Facebook or MySpace. Teachers are assigned to work with a small group of students, who are able to create their own profile on the site. While the profile will still feature a wall where friends can post messages, it also allows teachers to monitor students’ progress by checking their grades and tracking their progress toward self-set goals. The advisers, potentially including University students and CPS graduates, will also have profiles. Their pages will have a section to share stories with advisees and field questions to college applicants.

Other portions of the site include interactive learning tools, such as practice tests and databases with information about different high schools and colleges. Teachers will also work with students in class on how to approach college applications.

The initiative also hopes to address a gap in grade school and middle school curriculums around the issue of applying to high school. CPS students have broad choices when it comes to high schools, Schnieders said. There are eight competitive selective-enrollment schools in the Chicago area, but students in grade schools and middle schools are often unprepared for the selective application process. These difficulties, in turn, affect students’ chances of getting into college, Schnieders said.

The program is currently looking for undergraduate mentors to participate in the pilot, beginning in January. The program will launch in four CPS schools, the University’s Woodlawn campus in Hyde Park, and the Carter G. Woodson School in Bronzeville. The Urban Education Institute plans to expand the program within the upcoming year to include more schools both in the Chicago area and nationwide.