Union High School juniors Jashiya Moore and Ronjaia McIntosh said they feel excited and nervous about going to college.
“I look forward to getting the college experience and being able to do things on my own,” said Ronjaia. “You get to pick your classes, your times. You can have class when you want to.’
But she still had anxiety about work being too stressful and about her ability to get involved on campus.
Jashiya echoed her friend’s concerns. “I just think I’m not going to succeed. I feel like I won’t be focused in class. I need to change that.”
Jashiya and Ronjaia — students who will have college paid for through the Challenge Scholars program — are not alone in having a mix of emotions as they look ahead to college. So Grand Rapids Community College representatives are working to make the transition as smooth as possible.
Knowing What to Expect
The first-ever “Raider Takeover” provided a glimpse of college life, encouraging students to think beyond high school. More than a dozen GRCC faculty and staff members recently led sessions in Union classrooms to help students know what to expect when they start college. They covered topics like balancing work and school life, succeeding academically, what the student-athlete experience involves, employment tips and other common issues.
“These are topics that will be really important for students to keep in mind and be informed on as they navigate that transition from high school to college, to be successful in college and be prepared to enter GRCC or any other institution,” said Marisol Blanco, GRCC associate director of the College Success Center.
GRCC representatives worked with Union administrators to survey students on their top concerns. Students wanted to know more about college expectations, financing, and available services and resources. They shared what excites them and what makes them nervous about college.
“There were students who were really open about the anxiety they felt,” said Blanco, a University of Michigan graduate who graduated from Union in 2005.
“Many students may land at GRCC as their starting point,” Blanco said. “We want to make sure they feel confident in navigating that transition … GRCC has a team of people who will be there for them.”
GRCC alumna Veronica Aguirre, now a Western Michigan University student, presented on her college experience. She said she wanted to help students feel prepared.
“I’m a first-generation student, so anything about college life and college culture, I had no idea about,” she told them.
A Tuition-Free Path
Union High School juniors make up the first class of Challenge Scholars, including many who have known since middle school that their college tuition would be covered.
The program, funded through the Grand Rapids Community Foundation, also involves a partnership with GRCC, started in 2016. Challenge Scholars provides up to four years of tuition-free college for Harrison Park and Westwood Middle School students who graduate from Union with good grades, attendance and behavior. GRCC expanded the program to offer free tuition for two years for all students at Union High School and committed success coaches to work with students beginning in ninth grade.
Union Assistant Principal Aaron Roussey said the juniors have had a consistent message since middle school that college would be covered if they maintain good GPAs and attendance. That’s made a difference, he said. “They’ve had heightened exposure to higher education and its many options. A lot of them have an idea of what they want to get into.”
Success coach Travis Steffens said he helps students envision themselves in college and then lay out a path to get there.
“We want to have a community impact, and part of that is serving these schools and making sure their students know the process of making it through college,” he said. “We can make those steps more concrete.”