Jovan Edmunds has guided 316 seniors through the college admissions process as a school counselor for the Class of 2006 at Dundalk High School. She presented college information to all senior classes, wrote recommendation letters for at least 100 students and reminded others to sign up for college entrance exams.
Next fall, she and other counselors at Dundalk and Woodlawn high schools will have a little more help, thanks to a new program coordinated through 100 Black Men of Maryland.
The 100 College Access Program will hire a part-time counselor for each school to assist next year's juniors and seniors in meeting deadlines and overcoming economic barriers to higher education. The counselors will also organize sessions for parents and college tours, said Tracey Durant, the access program's executive director. And the program will use part of a $90,000 foundation grant to pay for need-based "gap" awards to help students make up the difference between their financial aid packages and the total cost of a college education.
Federal statistics show that finances can be a big barrier for a number of students, Durant said, and part of the problem is timing.
"It's May 8, and we still have students who haven't applied anywhere," she said this week.
If students didn't apply for financial aid by the deadlines, they might not receive a response before the end of the school year, when a counselor could help them, Durant said. She added that many students will have to work to pay for college but don't know how to plan for that.
"All of that poses problems and potential obstacles for students," Durant said. "It's just a lack of necessary information to make educated decisions. They're economically challenged and lack information, but all of them have high potential."
The 100 Black Men of Maryland, a service organization of African-American professionals, received a startup grant from the Virginia-based Jack Kent Cooke Foundation in March and teamed up with Baltimore County government and schools and other groups to develop the program here, Durant said. She said the program is modeled after the work of the CollegeBound Foundation, which places counselors at some Baltimore City high schools. The group wants to expand the program to place full-time counselors at these and other high schools, Durant said.
The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation also awarded grants to college access programs for Montgomery, Wicomico, Somerset, Charles, Calvert and St. Mary's counties. The Baltimore County program will receive $50,000 in the first year. The program must raise $40,000 to receive a matching grant from the foundation the next year.
Durant said her group selected schools, one from southwestern Baltimore County and another from the southeastern area of the county, that weren't served by other programs. At Dundalk, five counselors worked with nearly 1,400 students during the 2004-2005 school year, she said. Six counselors handled more than 2,000 students at Woodlawn during that school year. Only about 35 percent to 40 percent of students at those schools advance to college, Durant said.
Unlike the others, whose duties also include scheduling and bus and cafeteria duty, the program counselors will focus only on college admission issues, Durant said.
"We tend to get so many different competing interests," said Richard Solomon, chairman of Dundalk's school counseling department. "There's only so much individual attention you can give to each one."
Yesterday, Dundalk senior Robert Thomas Jr. made an appointment to meet with Edmunds, his counselor. He had been accepted at Tennessee's Knoxville College but wasn't sure whether he needed to make a deposit to reserve a place. Edmunds called Knoxville and then reminded Thomas to visit the school and to apply for several grants.
Thomas said he hadn't had any problems getting help from his counselor but could see the benefit of an additional staff member.
"Even though Ms. Edmunds comes to our classes, she's got other things to do," Thomas said. "If it was just a person [and] their focus is just college, that would be a big help."
It's harder to keep track of those who aren't on top of things themselves, Edmunds said. "Just that follow-up is really challenging," she said.
Edmunds has received some support. A federal grant has paid for a counselor, college application and entrance exam fees, and other expenses for Dundalk's Class of 2006 since those students were in middle school, Edmunds said. Durant said that they will reach out to juniors and seniors who meet academic, attendance and financial criteria, or are recommended for the program, but that no student will be refused assistance.
The Baltimore County group has held a college placement event with the Community College of Baltimore County at Woodlawn High, Durant said. Today, they'll have an information session for Dundalk juniors.