Sometimes, the most important step in getting at-risk youths to consider college is simply getting them to believe they can be accepted at a college or university in the first place.
But even if they can be convinced, reams of paperwork and daunting questions about tuition and financial aid are in the way -- and, all too often, prove to be insurmountable obstacles for on-the-fence students.
The Bridge to College Program, which launches at Alta Vista High School in January, aims to convince some of those students to pursue higher degrees using positive reinforcement and a little bit of "hand holding," according to Denise Swett, associate vice president of Foothill College's Middlefield Campus and community programs.
The program comes in the form of a 12-week class, taught on the Alta Vista campus for two days each week. There, students will learn how to register for classes, make appointments with counselors, and apply for financial aid and scholarships -- the basics, Swett said.
"Instead of having them go find the information, we bring the information to them and show them that they can do it," Swett said. Students at Alta Vista, the Mountain View-Los Altos high school district's continuation school, "are some of our most high-risk students. They've had difficulty in the education system already. You want to take down whatever barriers are in their way."
While Swett knows how hard it can be to get some students interested in college, she also knows the consequences awaiting those who forgo a higher education.
"Sure, you can go get a job without a degree, but I'm not sure you're going to be able to live off of it or support a family," Swett said. "The data show that people with more education make more money."
The data also show that as an individual's level of education rises, the likelihood that he or she will be unemployed drops. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in November the unemployment rate for adults 25 and older with a high school degree but no college was 10 percent. That rate drops to 8.7 percent for those with some college or an associate's degree. Only about 5 percent of those with a bachelor's degree or higher were unemployed.
Swett hopes that Bridge to College will help students who normally would give up on education after high school to continue into community college and maybe even make it to a four-year school.
"It's critical that everybody has an opportunity for education," she said. "Education is the only thing that will get them out of poverty and change these families' lives."
The program, which runs from 1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m., Mondays and Wednesdays at Alta Vista, is free and open to anyone who is a junior in high school or older. Swett said there will be about 35 seats available in the class.