College and high school student leaders from across West Virginia join to encourage more students to pursue higher education
CHARLESTON, W.VA. – College students representing a dozen higher education institutions met virtually today with more than 30 high school seniors from across West Virginia to discuss ways they can work together to encourage high school students to pursue and plan for postsecondary education. In this inaugural convening of the newly established West Virginia Student Success Leadership Council, student leaders talked about the barriers young people and their families face when planning for college, especially in light of the COVID-19 crisis, and how they can be a positive influence among their peers.
“We need young like you to keep advocating, sharing your views, and pursuing the options that are there upon graduation. We can’t allow the pandemic to put your futures on hold,” State Superintendent of Schools W. Clayton Burch told the students today. “You are already taking the steps necessary for your futures, but we need to figure out how to make these pathways as accessible as possible for every student. There are so many options for students – whether it’s a four-year degree, two-year degree, the military or another path – and your voice is powerful as we encourage students to continue in their education.”
The Student Success Leadership Council, organized by West Virginia’s Higher Education Policy Commission and Department of Education, is comprised of student body presidents and leaders from the state’s colleges, universities, and high schools. The group was formed this year after college student leaders, recognizing the drop in financial aid and college applications, expressed a desire to talk with high school students about the importance of higher education.
“Our students have this platform as leaders at their schools, and we want them to use it,” said Sarah Armstrong Tucker, West Virginia’s Higher Education Chancellor. “These students have already chosen their college path, or they’re well on their way to doing so, and we’re tremendously grateful that they’re committed to sharing the college message with their peers, brothers, sisters, and neighbors. We’re working hard to get more high school seniors completing the FAFSA, applying for the Promise Scholarship, and exploring all of the financial aid opportunities available to them. This peer-to-peer outreach is a critical part of that work.”
At this time last year, more than 8,500 high school seniors had filled out Promise applications; currently, nearly 4,200 seniors have completed the application. More than 7,300 seniors had completed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) – the key to unlocking financial aid for college – at this time last year, compared to just over 5,400 today.
“The priority I would stress for high school seniors is to complete the steps. Don’t worry about the broader picture right now. When you get to college, you’re going to grow, you’re going to learn a lot about yourself, and you’ll find your passion in life,” said Anna Williams, student body president at Marshall University. “For now, check the boxes – complete the FAFSA, fill out your applications, apply to colleges. Envision that first year of college, and plan for how to get there. When you do, you’ll excel exponentially.”
Among many ideas shared today, students conveyed a need to communicate more about the college-planning process with parents, and to start talking with high school students about the steps they need to take well before their senior year.
“I think we need to start earlier in high school with getting the message out about the steps for college, and encourage students to take a deeper look into where they want to apply, because senior year is so busy and overwhelming,” said Sophie Brager, student body president at Robert C. Byrd High School in Clarksburg.
The Higher Education Policy Commission and Department of Education plan to continue engaging and convening the Student Success Leadership Council. Students wrapped up this first meeting with tangible action items – including encouraging their peers to sign up for West Virginia’s text-message college counseling program, “Txt 4 Success,” which provides students with helpful reminders and answers to their questions. Students can subscribe to the program by visiting http://www.cfwvconnect.com/txt-4-success/.
The deadline for applying for the state’s Promise Scholarship is March 1, 2021, for current high school seniors. Students must complete both the FAFSA and the program application by that time. The FAFSA is free and available through the U.S. Department of Education at fafsa.gov. The Promise application is available at cfwv.com/promise.
For assistance with applications, students and families are encouraged to call the state’s financial aid hotline at 877-987-7664.