Librarians Help Pandemic-Era Students Stay on Track for College, Discussing All Options and Addressing Financial Barriers
COVID-19 led some students to put off college or arrive less prepared academically or emotionally. At MacArthur High School in San Antonio, TX, school librarian Janelle Schnacker has firsthand experience supporting students through the “senioritis” that afflicts many college-bound students this time of year. The pandemic only added more uncertainty and instability during a period already filled with unknowns, leading students to put off college, or arrive less prepared academically or emotionally. “Sometimes you have honest conversations with kids where they say, ‘I wanted to graduate, but I’m not ready to,’” Schnacker says. The class of 2022 will have spent more than half of their high school careers in a pandemic. But librarians like Schnacker, along with guidance counselors, education researchers, and academic librarians, have also seen students who need more personalized guidance navigating post-high school options: Is a four-year college still the right fit as society continues to wrestle with COVID-19? Or would a community college, military academy, or trade school provide a more personal, not to mention affordable, experience? Instead of an out-of-state school, maybe staying closer to home is better? Or is a break the right choice after a stressful, emotionally difficult two years? College enrollment has seen a steep decline because of pandemic disruptions. “It’s concerning when we’ve made progress in the past 10–15 years from a college access standpoint, to have a lot of that just wiped away [from the pandemic],” says Leigh, who will join the faculty at Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey this summer. In September 2021, Leigh and collaborators at Strada and Heart + Mind Strategies wanted to dig into the downward trend, and identify gaps, needs, and decision drivers that are influencing young adults’ plans for postsecondary education during COVID-19. That’s likely because the class of 2020 was further into the college application process when the pandemic shut down schools, Leigh says. “I wasn’t sure where the pandemic was going and if there would be more lockdowns,” shared survey respondent Kitana.
That unpredictability placed a major toll on students’ decision-making, says Leigh. “You could see students managing the different tradeoffs in their heads of, ‘Is it worth going to college in a time of uncertainty?’ and not being sure that was the college experience that they wanted,” says Leigh. Twenty-six percent of students said that financial pressure or affordability held them back from immediately pursuing postsecondary education plans. The cost of college is a perennial issue that has been long reflected in nationwide data, however, the pandemic has only made the issue more daunting, Leigh says. “It’s even more stressful and magnified, say, if your parents lost their jobs, or if you lost your parents,” says Leigh. These cumulative factors, she explains, led to students deciding to take a gap year or two. The pandemic “took a huge toll on me mentally and emotionally,” wrote survey respondent Destiny. Leigh agrees this decision can be a productive time for students, but adds that “there’s a big inequity about who really gets to take a gap year. “You often see higher income students or students that go to schools with more resources that can connect them in ways to have a very rich gap year. Other inequities in the college-decision process were exacerbated during the pandemic, Leigh says. Providing personal guidance is a practice that Carl Andrews, assistant professor and reference instruction librarian, takes to heart while working with young people entering Bronx Community College (BCC) in New York City.
“Many of our students are coming in, and they need support, they need academic support in every way possible,” he says. Andrews emphasizes the need for college librarians to work with local high school teachers and school librarians when possible to prime college-bound students’ information literacy. “We learned a lot about why students aren’t leaving high school prepared for college-level research,” he says. “I should be a constant, [and] the library should be a constant, throughout all 15 weeks of their first semester,” Andrews says. Corbin, the college counselor, also strongly encourages individualized support and transition guidance, which she has found crucial for students with learning differences. “For some of my students, they might be able to do the work, but they just forget to turn it in,” Corbin says. Schnacker adds that some students didn’t have the opportunity to develop “soft skills” during the pandemic. This academic year at MacArthur High School’s library, Schnacker partnered with the school’s College and Career Center to host a College, Career, and Military Readiness Challenge to rebuild some of these skills. Other activities asked kids to reflect upon their high school education, life experiences, and interests. “When I think about college readiness, it’s not so much about every kid going to college.
Read full article at School Library Journal