College access professionals from around the country gathered to learn and share ideas at the National College Access Network (NCAN) annual conference last month. NCAN’s non-profit members partner with local school districts to provide services that increase postsecondary attainment for low-income students.

There were many takeaways from this year’s conference and we wanted to highlight two in particular. In their standing room only session, the College Success Foundation-DC stressed the importance of relationships with students and highlighted a compelling framework for beginning that relationship. In their experience, many students are hesitant to come to advising sessions, ask for help, and may not trust the advisors at first. The organization uses an approach called appreciative advising that starts with students’ strengths, skills, and abilities and aims to create a safe space for students to discuss their hopes, fears, and challenges.

The Appreciative Advising framework includes six phases:

  • Disarm: Make a positive first impression with the student, build rapport, and create a safe, welcoming space.
  • Discover: Ask positive open-ended questions that help advisers learn about students' strengths, skills, and abilities.
  • Dream: Inquire about students' hopes and dreams for their futures.
  • Design: Co-create a plan for making their dreams a reality.
  • Deliver: The student delivers on the plan created during the Design phase and the adviser is available to encourage and support students.
  • Don’t Settle: Advisers and students alike need to set their own internal bars of expectations high.

One of the most popular topics at the conference was around developing students’ non-cognitive skills. These skills aren’t necessarily taught in the classroom, but the organizations represented at NCAN know well that they are crucial for student success. Public Profit, a not-for-profit consulting group, highlighted five non-cognitive skills identified by researchers at the University of Chicago that contribute to students’ academic success. The five factors are:

  • Academic Behaviors – observable behaviors that show students’ engagement and effort
  • Academic Mindsets - students’ attitudes and beliefs about their academic work and ability
  • Academic Perseverance – the ability to overcome distractions, obstacles, and challenges to complete academic work
  • Learning Strategies – tactics that students use to help them remember, think, and learn
  • Social Skills – behaviors that allow students to interact with peers and adults in positive and productive ways

Counselors and other educators can encourage students to develop in these areas and when demonstrated can be a powerful way to celebrate the student.

Educators in this community have long believed in and worked towards greater college attainment for low-income and minority students. The issue is gaining significant national attention. To wrap up the conference, Eric Waldo, Executive Director of Michelle Obama’s Reach Higher Initiative, recalled that the First Lady was ‘almost an undermatching story’. Her counselor suggested to her that Princeton may be too much of a stretch. The future First Lady decided to not listen to the advice; she was accepted and graduated cum laude in 1985.

Hobsons commends college access professionals who are working to help students reach their goals every day.

Learn how Naviance can help students reach their academic, college and career goals and provide advisors with tools to maximize impact.


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