Since 2008, the Commissioner’s Office of the Utah System of Higher Education has implemented the College Access Challenge Strategy focused on better informing students and parents on college and career preparation. The strategy consists of several initiatives aimed at increasing the number of students who are prepared to enter and succeed in postsecondary education, especially low-income and first-generation students. These initiatives were also developed to support and expand current efforts at USHE institutions and among K-12 partners.
StepUp to Higher Education
The most visible initiative is StepUp to Higher Education and the associated StepUpUtah.com website which was created in 2011. StepUp to Higher Education is part of USHE’s social awareness campaign, designed to encourage all Utah students to dream big about their futures, and then act on those dreams by preparing for and completing college. On average, 15,000 individuals use StepUpUtah.com monthly to access information on preparing and paying for college, find information about StepUp programs and events such as FAFSA Completion Open House Events, the Utah Scholars program, Utah College Application Week, and the Regents’ Scholarship..
As part of the StepUp to Higher Education campaign, a statewide College Guide has been produced each year and distributed to every high school senior in the state from August through November through the Utah Council’s Post High School Tour. The publication is also made available to participating Utah Scholars junior high and middle schools, various college access programs, and to the larger community through outreach events. This year it’s expected that 85,000 College Guides will be distributed.
USHE Conference for School Counselors and Administrators
Various programming for school counselors also took place with the support of the grant including the widely attended Conference for School Counselors and Administrators. Each year this one-day free conference attracts counselors from across the state with an opportunity to participate in various aspects of college readiness and access. The conference has grown significantly with an expected attendance of nearly 800 counselors, administrators, and college access professionals this year.
College Access Network of Utah
Several initiatives took place in an effort to strengthen and enhance the statewide infrastructure surrounding college access, the most notable being the creation of the College Access Network of Utah (CANU) which is a statewide collaborative network made up of K-12 partners, higher education access professionals, and business partners who meet regularly with a goal to strengthen programs and services that encourage the access and attainment of higher education for Utah’s underserved, low-income, first generation, and historically underrepresented student populations.
StepUP Ready Partnership Grants
Partnership grants were awarded directly to USHE institutions through the ImPACT (Improving Preparation, Access, and Communities Together) and StepUP READY Grants whose goal is to strengthen and encourage new collaborations between K-12 schools, communities, colleges and universities. Over $270,000 in StepUp READY Grant funds were awarded to Utah K-12 school districts and higher education institution partnerships this year.
About the United States College Access Challenge Grant
In 2008, the Utah State Board of Regents was designated by then Utah Governor Huntsman as the state agency to apply and receive the College Access Challenge Grant (CACG) from the U.S. Department of Education. The CACG program is a formula grant and was created and funded as part of the College Cost Reduction and Access Act of 2007 with the purpose of helping low-income students and families learn about, prepare for, and finance postsecondary education. The CACG program was later extended through the Health Care and Education Affordability Reconciliation Act and received an appropriation a total $150 million for fiscal years 2010-2014. The three main grant objectives are:
- Awareness. To provide information to students and families on postsecondary education; benefits, opportunities, planning, financing options including activities associated with financial literacy, FAFSA completion, default prevention and outreach activities for students who may be at risk of not enrolling in or completing college.
- Professional development. Develop and deliver professional development events and resources for guidance counselors and secondary schools, as well as financial aid administrators, college admissions, recruitment staff, access and outreach personnel at institutions of higher education to improve knowledge and capacity to better assist them in their roles in working and increasing students and parents understanding of:
- Admission requirements and application deadlines and processes;
- Financial aid and scholarship opportunities and procedures;
- Academic and financial preparation to improve postsecondary success;
- Activities such as tutoring/mentoring, and support instruments and models to assist students in preparing for and succeeding in college.
- Statewide infrastructure. Expand and enhance statewide infrastructure in Utah which will foster partnerships among federal, state, local agencies, community based organizations, businesses and public and higher education to significantly increase the number of underrepresented students who enter and who are successful in postsecondary education.
Each year Utah’s initiatives have been assessed and revised to build on successes and ensure long-term sustainability. Although Utah’s College Access Challenge Grant expired this August, nearly all partnerships and programming will continue through support from the State Legislature.