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Swarthmore Hosts Summit on Boosting College Access for Underrepresented Students

Room filled with access summit participants

Swarthmore hosted its third annual College Access Summit last Thursday, bringing together more than 80 high school counselors, community-based organization advisers, and college admissions officers to brainstorm ways to boost college access for underrepresented students.

Attendees once again explored ways to reduce barriers and build collaboration in their field, but this time with a twist: Rather than offering standalone sessions, which in past years covered such topics as undocumented students and the Questbridge program, the summit presented an immersive college counseling experience.

Four facilitators from Philadelphia public schools and nonprofits guided attendees through three module sessions: building a college list, serving on a mock admissions committee, and selecting a college. In small groups, the attendees considered the backgrounds and best outcomes for four fictitious underrepresented students.

In doing so, they exchanged and gleaned insights from the perspectives of those students and their families, as well as those of college admissions officers.

“The module format replicates the real challenges and issues counselors face with incomplete information, new circumstances and challenges coming from all directions, and advising very different students with unique assets and issues,” says Andrew Moe, associate dean of admissions and director of access. 

Among the considerations were the students’ family backgrounds, transcripts, and test scores, their families’ expected financial contributions, and their optimum fit with particular colleges and universities. The program was designed to uplift collaboration and knowledge-sharing between veteran professionals and new counselors.

“Hopefully, everyone left not knowing absolutely everything about the issue of college access, but what questions they still need answers to and who they can use as a resource to find those answers,” said Lance Dronkers, assistant director of college placement and academic and college adviser for Mastery Charter School in Philadelphia, who helped facilitate the summit.

“And in a year where the news cycle was dominated by the ‘Varsity Blues’ [college bribery] scandal and too little about the need to fight poverty and access to education, it’s great to feel the camaraderie and expertise of those invited to the summit,” he added.

Representatives from 15 area colleges and universities, including Bryn Mawr, Haverford, and the University of Pennsylvania, also participated, and attendees received a counselors’ resource guide full of college access resources. 

Sharing such information and bringing people who work with underserved students together is Swarthmore’s responsibility as a selective, well-endowed institution, says Moe: “We believe in being a conveyor and connector among those assisting students in higher education.”

The College Access Summit is free of charge to attendees, many of whom have never had the opportunity for participation in professional development programming, and counselors are reimbursed for any expenses they incur. 

“Just like we need to break down barriers for students,” said Moe, “we need to do the same for the adults who serve them.”

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