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Clubs in Calif. Middle Schools Help Get Students on College Track

In California, an effort to teach kids about college and careers through clubs in middle school is showing signs of success, with plans underway to expand the program.

The Career & College Clubs initiative was started five years ago by the nonprofit ALL Management Corp., based in Los Angeles. It works with 15,000 students in 160 schools and last week officials announced it is now available to all public and private middle schools throughout California. The clubs are geared toward low-income, at-risk students who can benefit from early exposure to career exploration and information about college.

In each school, a coach (usually a teacher or counselor) coordinates the program. Students meet for two or three hours a week before or after school, or during a free period during the day. The clubs have about 20 to 30 students from 7th and 8th grade, and the kids take active roles in planning visits to colleges, leading a simulated college admissions process, and developing other projects together.

An evaluation of the program this summer by ACT Inc. found that students in the clubs were more likely to sign up for a college-prep curriculum in high school and aspire to a four-year college degree. There was also spillover effect. Schools with the clubs for more than one year experienced an increase in overall student participation in rigorous high school courses and students' planning to attend college.

Most students participating in the Career & College Clubs are from families in which their parents did not attend college. About 90 percent are from racial or ethnic minority groups —71 percent are Hispanic.

Many college-readiness programs take place in high school, but early intervention is needed to keep students from losing interest and ambition during the middle school year, said Quentin Wilson, the president and chief executive officer of ALL Management and Career & College Clubs, in a phone interview. Much of the focus is on financial education to help reduce default rates and help students understand what it takes to pay for college and choose a career path, he said.

But Wilson said the key to the success of this model is the role of students in training and mentoring other students beyond the program to inspire a college-going culture. 

"Students are taking the lead in developing the curriculum," said Wilson, whose background includes serving as Missouri's commissioner of higher education. "We thought they would have an impact, but realized soon that they were chomping at the bit for leadership and responsibility."

The costs of the program are minimal to the school —about $20 per student— to provide 16 separate sessions around developing college readiness skills. ALL Management covers the remaining expenses, said Wilson. The program is flexible and has been adapted to work in other venues, such as Boys and Girls Clubs and 4-H clubs.

Now, that the program has a track record, Wilson is trying to get the word out to school leaders about its availability and hopes to generate interest to expand beyond California.

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