• Lance Holt

Southwestern University has signed a partnership agreement with College Forward that will enable the organization to expand its services to Williamson County.

College Forward is an Austin-based non-profit organization that provides free college preparatory services to motivated, economically disadvantaged students. Services it provides include preparation for college entrance exams, assistance with college applications, assistance securing financial aid, and support once students get to college.

As part of the agreement with College Forward, Southwestern will help the organization recruit college students who can work with the organization as Americorps volunteers. The university also will host local events for the organization such as its “College 101” class for parents and practice sessions for students who need to take college entrance exams.

College Forward has been serving students in the Hays Consolidated Independent School District south of Austin since 2003. The partnership with Southwestern will enable it to serve students at Georgetown High School. The organization also hopes to establish a partnership with Stony Point High School in Round Rock.

In anticipation of the agreement with Southwestern, College Forward began working with 21 juniors from Georgetown High School in January. The group meets Tuesday and Thursday evenings in the high school’s “GO Room,” which is designed to help students research colleges. To participate in the program, students must be in the top 60 percent of their class, be the first in their family to earn a bachelor’s degree, or be eligible for subsidized school lunches.

“We have a population of students who have the potential to go to college but no one in their family has experience doing this or knows where to begin,” said Alan Oakes, an at-risk coordinator at GHS who initiated the high school’s partnership with College Forward. “We take students with aptitude and fill in the gaps.”

Oakes said response to the program has been excellent. “The students appreciate the support and parents are ecstatic to have this service available here,” he said.

Oakes and Lisa Fielder, executive director of College Forward, said they expect the number of Georgetown High School students participating in the program to increase to 50 in the fall. This will require at least five mentors from Southwestern.

“Exposure to students from Southwestern will give our students a glimpse into what the life of the mind can be like,” Fielder said. “It is great to be affiliated with a school that will value the intellect of our students and will nurture that intellect.”

Southwestern’s partnership with College Forward will complement its existing Upward Bound program, which also helps prepare prospective first-generation college students.
Lorna Hermosura, who directs Southwestern’s Upward Bound Program, said demand for her federally funded program far exceeds its ability to serve students. The program is currently serving 50 students from Georgetown, Jarrell and Granger high schools.

“We have 26 students on our waiting list,” Hermosura said. She added that the College Forward program will complement Upward Bound nicely because Upward Bound can only admit students in the 9th and 10th grades.

“Many students do not learn about our program until it is too late,” she said. “College Forward focuses on students in the 11th and 12th grades, so that will be perfect.”

Indeed, Oakes said he turned to College Forward after trying to get several GHS students into Upward Bound but found they were too old to start the program.

In addition to Southwestern, College Forward has partnerships with St. Edward’s University, Texas State University and The University of Texas at Austin. Since it was established in 2003, the program has worked with more than 400 students. Of these, 100 percent have been accepted to college and 92 percent have entered college within a year of their high school graduation.

Even before the recent partnership was announced, several members of the Southwestern community have been involved with College Forward. James Gaeta, director of financial aid, has served on the board of the organization since 2004. Kirsten Hollis, a 2003 Southwestern graduate, serves on the organization’s staff as a program coordinator. Hollis helped develop College Forward’s curriculum while serving as an AmeriCorps volunteer with the organization before joining its permanent staff. And sophomore Nicole Powell is already working with students at GHS as a college coach for College Forward.

For more information on College Forward, visit www.collegeforward.org.


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