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Schools Embrace Web to Streamline College Planning, Apps

With school counselors juggling hundreds of students and under pressure to get them college ready, some districts are turning to Web-based tools to empower students to manage their own academic records and apply to colleges.

Miami-Dade County Public Schools, the fourth largest school district in the country at 340,000 students, announced today that it will use an online college and career planning program, ConnectEDU, in its 60 high schools.

"Some high schools have over 4,000 students, and we recognize for one person to do this job, it's very difficult," says Debbie Montilla, district director in the Division of Student Service in Miami-Dade.

The platform allows students to create an electronic portfolio of their academic record to make sure they take the classes that are in line with their post-high school goals. Then, when they begin their college search, the SuperApp feature helps with researching financial aid, organizing the search process, and streamlining multiple college application forms.

Nearly 300 counselors and college assistance program advisers in Miami-Dade have been trained to use the system, and it will be rolled out to all high schools this month.

Realizing that some schools have more resources than others to help teens navigate the college process, Craig Powell, chief executive officer of ConnectEDU, founded the company nine years ago.

Instead of keeping student records stuffed away in manila envelopes, the concept was to make high school and college information easily accessible from school or home. With a user name and password, the folder has been replaced by an account that can be opened electronically anytime on the platform, says Powell.

"It gives families a single destination to manage 100 percent of their education and career-related decisions," he says.

Powell says the college search process, which is so critical to students and local economies, has been disorganized and inefficient. Students using SuperApp plug in their information once on the electronic form, and they can easily send it to several colleges.

The colleges pay to be partners in the system, underwriting much of the cost of the service to the schools.

To date, ConnectEDU is working with 3,000 high schools, 500 colleges, and 50 employers with its system, Powell says.

The Massachusetts Educational Financing Authority, a non-profit authority that promotes access and affordability to higher education, recently rolled out its Your Plan for College platform through ConnectEDU. About 100 high schools there have signed up, and some middle schools are interested in the ConnectEDU service, which is provided free to them through the state, says Tom Graf, executive director of MEFA.

"This is a tool that is an attempt to provide a path for college and career that is focused on student success," says Graf. It is geared to be user-friendly, interactive and student-centered so they will want to come back to update their profiles and stay engaged in planning their careers. Also, he adds, because it is electronic, there is great potential for tracking long-term what success means for students.

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