Foundations aim young to instill college ambition

The Education Beat

Campaign: College Awareness Month focuses on informing kids that higher education is desirable -- and possible.

The Education Beat

March 24, 2002|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

THEY USED to call it College Awareness Week. Now it's College Awareness Month, and it begins tomorrow with activities at the Port Discovery children's museum directed not at teen-agers about to make the leap, but at elementary and middle-school kids for whom college at this point in their lives lacks size, shape or color.

Or even possibility.

The adults who run the CollegeBound Foundation, the primary sponsor of tomorrow's affair, realized a couple of years ago that the high-schoolers they were helping with college applications and scholarships hadn't had the lifelong prepping for higher education enjoyed by their peers in the suburbs.

Many couldn't envision themselves in a college setting, and many with the smarts for college had no idea how to jump through the hoops of admission.

So this year it's a monthlong affair conducted largely in the language of the younger student. The Jonan and Abell foundations, for example, paid for a comic book, "The CollegeBound Adventures of the ProduceKids," which will be distributed free to the city's middle-school kids.

And Wednesday at Poly-Western, Baltimore jazz musician Dontae Winslow will perform and give away copies of his CD, Change a Life, Change the World.

Winslow, 27, and artist Donald A. Tyson Jr., 23, who created the comic book, are flesh-and-blood examples of the life-changing nature of college. Tyson appeared in the CollegeBound Foundation's downtown offices last summer, looking for help with his college plans. He had dropped out of Towson University to care for his girlfriend, who was dying of leukemia.

When Tyson showed foundation officials his portfolio, they made him a deal: He would produce the comic book, in which all of the characters are fruits and vegetables facing the daily grind of Baltimore kids, and the foundation would pay Tyson's accumulated tuition bills at Towson.

Winslow, like Tyson, overcame adversity, eventually earning a degree in classical musical from the Peabody Conservatory. Between recording sessions and appearances at jazz festivals, he teaches music at the Gilmor-Edison Academy in West Baltimore.

"It's important for kids to know about college early," Winslow said. "They have to know that a college education is a prerequisite to success in the real world, and kids in the black community haven't been privy to this news. Some of them think going to college isn't cool."

Winslow said he got the message from his mother. "In the sixth grade, I had five different careers planned."

College Awareness Month, which also features art and poetry contests, campus visits and parent workshops, is pitching to what some call the "baby boom echo," which will result in modest enrollment increases in Maryland higher education through about 2011, roughly when this year's third-graders would enter college.

Gaining admission will be difficult but far from impossible for Baltimore kids, particularly at four-year schools in the Maryland system, which have become ever more selective. State officials told the education policy committee of the University System of Maryland last week that more than half of the system's projected student growth over the next decade will occur at the online University College and the state's historically black colleges and universities.

Higher education has an obligation here, too. It's one thing to declare that jobs in today's economy require higher education. It's another to provide access to that education.

A position just right for a former governor

If William E. "Brit" Kirwan comes down from the mountain and accepts the chancellorship of the University System of Maryland, there will still be some unfinished business spelled "Parris N. Glendening."

Until the Board of Regents offered the job to Kirwan, a widely praised choice, there was the Glendening Problem. Who with any talent and experience would want to compete for a position believed to be greased for the governor?

Last November, I suggested a solution: Create a job for Glendening with high visibility and high pay and have it waiting for him when his second term expires. Something, I said, like director of a new Center for the Study of Politics in Higher Education.

But there's already an ideal job for the governor. Why not an endowed chair at the National Center for Smart Growth Research and Education, an existing interdisciplinary program on the College Park campus? Glendening would be back in academia, he'd be based on the campus where he started and he'd be involved with an initiative created by none other than Gov. Parris N. Glendening.

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