Hacking to get students to college

By Anne Collier

They were hacking education over at Facebook yesterday. Well, more like helping to open up the college entrance and completion process for high school students who want to go to college but face hurdles – e.g., low-quality schools, socio-economic struggles, or families not familiar with the college experience. It was a hackathon at Facebook for app developers who – with the support of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and advice from high school student leaders working with College Summit (which has the same mission as the hackathon) – designed apps aimed at removing the hurdles.

It’s an amazing opportunity for app developers and eventually high school students. The apps will be judged by people like Facebook engineers, educators, venture capitalists, and philanthropists. They “hacked” all day, designing apps in three categories: College Pathways (helping users build, test, and implement their own pathways, based on interests and career aspirations); Building Peer Groups (helping users “build social capital” and a group of college peers); and College Admissions, Selection and Aid (helping to fill gaps in info about those three processes, gaps that disadvantaged and first-generation students have been shown by research to have). Then each hacker or team had three minutes to make a pitch. The judges evaluated pitches for content and innovation (50%), technical quality (25%), and the quality of the pitch itself (25%). The winner for each category will get $5,000 and the runner up $1,000. Winners will be announced January 23 and apps piloted next summer (see CollegeKnowledgeChallenge.org for more).

I asked Paul Collins, College Summit’s executive director, what he’s seeing high school students need most to make it into college and go the distance. He said the King Center Charter School, another partner in this project, has identified a number of needs, but the three that stand out to him the most (and this, I think, relates to all high school students):

* Self-advocacy – being able to present and represent yourself
* A sense of belonging in the future school environment – being able to visualize themselves there is part of it (something not so hard for students whose parents and other relatives went to college and can help them with that)
* Being able to ask for help (“some people call this ‘building a network’ – knowing the questions and being willing to ask for the answers).

Here’s a blog post about the hackathon at the Gates Foundation’s ImpatientOptimists.org.

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