What's the value of CAW?
When we piloted Oregon College Application Week last year, we started small. With just 7 sites, most of which were very small (serving fewer than 50 seniors), I was cautiously optimistic about what "success" would look like. I knew we wouldn't see the kinds of big numbers that move the needle, as they had in Minnesota. In their first year, they nearly tripled the number of applications entering the Minnesota State University system's institutions during the designated week! Since we had fewer sites and were serving about 1/10 of the students they were, my goal for our first year was much more simple - get our program up and running, build some momentum, and develop a plan for growth that could lead to those kind of needle-moving numbers.
The numbers started coming in, and I was thrilled with what we were seeing. Nearly 400 students participated, submitting applications to all types of colleges and universities around the state and country. (You can read more about our success here.) That was great. But the real joy came from reading the comments in coordinator surveys:
The true impact will never be known. There is at least one person graduating because of it. They got their senior portfiolo done because they saw the relevance of what was needed. Students dreamed and then saw how their dream could come true.
Students graduating because of this small, one-week pilot project? Students seeing actual possibilities in their dreams because of this small, one-week pilot project? I love data, and I think numbers can help tell a story, but it's these anecdotes that tug at hearstrings and tell us that the work we do is about more than moving needles - it's about impacting students' lives in very real ways.
As we grow the program, we want to be sure that CAW events continue to be impactful. Most students who participate will already be planning to graduate; for many it will be a practical, rather than emotional, experience. How can we be certain CAW is valuable for them as well?
A few weeks ago, I led a workshop at OSU's College Success Camp for GEAR UP students. The express purpose of our time together was to introduce them to the concept of College Application Week and to lead them in planning a pre-CAW activity for their high schools, something that would encourage participation and build excitement for the effort. The night before I met with them, the students had practiced completing an application to Oregon State. They'd been surrounded by caring adults and current OSU students, all there to assist them when necessary. I started our workshop by asking students to think back to the previous night's activity. I asked them to raise their hands if...
... they thought completing the application was difficult. About a quarter of the room raised their hands.
... they needed help to complete the application. About half of the room raised their hands.
... they thought they might need help with their "real" applications. Still more raised their hands.
... they thought it would be helpful to have -and that they would utilize- a dedicated time and place, during the school day, when they could complete their applications with help from adults. Just one student kept her hand down.
For me, that's potential impact. Many students find the process of applying to college daunting. Even when it's simple form to complete, when they don't know what to expect, it might as well be a mountain they're climbing. If we can provide a safe, dedicated place for them to reach the summit, why wouldn't we?
It takes very little planning - a small investment for a huge return! I wasn't prepared for some of the (positive) emotional fallout of some of our students.
That's what CAW is all about. It's a simple solution with amazing potential.