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Tacoma nonprofits are trying to help high school seniors stick with their college plans

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Community groups and the Tacoma school district have been trying in recent years to help more high school students pursue college degrees. But now there’s concern that students will push off college plans because of the pandemic.

So three nonprofit groups and Tacoma Public Schools have worked together to survey high school seniors to connect and find out their needs.  

It’s an urgent undertaking, given that one national survey from April showed that enrollment in four-year colleges may drop by as much as 20 percent this fall. In addition, it’s more difficult to touch base with high school seniors when there’s no in-person school.

Tim Herron is chief executive of the Tacoma-based nonprofit Degrees of Change, which helps underrepresented students pursue post-secondary degrees and encourages them to come back and serve their communities after they finish. He said high schools are normally a place where students who would be the first in their families to go to college can get advice.

“They have all the more need for those kinds of resources and supports to help them make good decisions,” Herron said. “When those aren’t available in the buildings, that’s where we’re concerned that we’re going to see a disproportionate impact.”

So Degrees of Change partnered with the Tacoma school district, Graduate Tacoma and College Success Foundation to create a quick check-in survey for high school students. The aim is to find out their post-graduation plans and connect the students with advisers and the colleges they’re considering attending.

Shanna LaMar is executive director of College Success Foundation Tacoma.

“We’re connecting community partners to help these students, so if they’re going to go to University of Washington Tacoma, we’re making sure they’re talking with an admissions counselor at University of Washington Tacoma,” LaMar said.

The groups in particular are trying to help students of color, low-income students and students who would be the first in their families to go to college.

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.