College Access and Success in the Virtual Environment

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As the pandemic wore on during the 2020-2021 academic year, K-12 education leaders sought opportunities for students to remain focused on college access and enrollment. Community partnerships led to the creation of the College 101 webinar series. 

According to the National Student Clearinghouse High School Benchmarks 2020 COVID-19 Special Analytics published in March 2021, COVID-19 stifled postsecondary enrollment. Fall 2020 college enrollment declined an average of 6.8% nationally among class of 2020 high school graduates. Community college enrollment dropped the most while public four-year enrollment was affected the least. Following the national trend, registration among freshman college students in Florida also declined Fall 2020 versus Fall 2019. Regrettably, the greatest decline both nationally and in Florida occurred among those students who benefit most from postsecondary education  ̶  students who attended high-poverty high schools or who qualify as low-income. “Ensuring all students have access to and are prepared for success in postsecondary education is critical to closing education equity gaps,” said Paul J. Luna, President and CEO, Helios Education Foundation. “We must remain focused on student success, particularly on those students who are traditionally underserved.”

Responding to the needs of students and families for information on college access and enrollment, a coalition of partners developed the College 101 webinar series. Led by the Florida College Access Network (FCAN), in partnership with Take Stock in Children, Office of Student Financial Aid, Florida Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, Florida PTA, Florida Virtual School, Florida School Counselor Association, Florida Department of Education, AVID, TRIO, and the Broward, Polk, and Osceola School Districts, the College 101 webinar series, hosted March 22 – 29, 2020, engaged students and families on the four key steps in the college-going process:  (1) Explore — students learned about the available college options and selecting the right fit for them; (2) Apply — students learned how to create a winning college application and essay; (3) Fund — this session focused on the three primary ways to pay for college and the ways to qualify for student aid; and (4) Go — this session was designed to educate students on their next steps as they prepared for the transition. “College 101 is a true testament to what a great group of committed leaders can do when we want to collectively influence change and help students understand the complexities within the postsecondary application and financial aid processes,” said Charleita Richardson, Executive Director, Florida College Access Network.  The webinar series hosted 400 participants per session. 

Building upon the framework outlined during the College 101 webinar series, the Florida Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators provided speakers and experts to answer questions from participants during two instructional sessions, also in March, to facilitate completion of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). 

Given the success of the initial College 101 webinar series, FCAN and partners will produce a second webinar series in the month of September. Ensuring all students feel supported to pursue their potential is critical to closing education equity gaps and fueling a diverse and culturally rich workforce.  “We are appreciative of the collaboration of our partners and look forward to continuing the College 101 series as we work together on Florida’s SAIL to 60 goal and create a Talent Strong Florida for years to come” concluded Richardson.