The first time I participated in College Goal Sunday, I was surprised to work with so many students getting their FAFSAs completed in February. If you judged by the experiences you might witness in our aid offices, you might be tempted to think that the FAFSA wasn’t available until the week classes start! Still, here we are, in the midst of another snowy winter, getting ready for one of the more visible events supporting some of our most important work: promoting college access and helping students plan ahead for some of the most important choices they will ever make – and it’s exciting.
College Goal Sunday is one of my favorite events – and I am always amazed by the service that dedicated volunteers including financial aid professionals, TRIO and high school counselors and members of the corporate and non-profit sectors provide in communities across North Dakota to make it a success year after year. Volunteers have braved blizzards and bone-chilling cold to meet students and their families and help answer basic questions that we know can seem so daunting.
North Dakota’s CGS efforts this year will bring together volunteers at eleven sites across the state, serving several hundred families. All five tribal colleges in North Dakota will host events, as well as five colleges in the state university system and a high school. But that’s just the work of a weekend – there’s so much more that goes on every day.
The work of financial aid professionals is at the center of college access efforts in North Dakota and across the nation. We represent, in reality, America’s first college access program. Sometimes it appears that we have less work to do, since, for instance, North Dakota has had one of the highest high school graduation rates in the country for years – but there is still plenty of college access work we need to do.
There are huge disparities in high school and college graduation rates for minority students and students in different economic brackets in North Dakota and nation-wide. While we can’t solve these problems alone, we can know they exist and prepare our programs to adapt to the unique challenges that our students face.
As we bundle up to head out in the weather on a Sunday afternoon in February, let’s take time to examine our programs, strengthen our outreach efforts and consider what else we can do to embrace the challenge of college access and success for all our students. Besides, it’s an indoor job, and that’s a plus right about now!
North Dakota 2011 State President