Although it's only existed for a little more than a semester, higher education officials say a new program designed to help certain students navigate the college application process is already making strides.
The Oklahoma Regents for Higher Education launched a program last year that places so-called college liaisons in five community colleges around the state. Those liaisons work with students from 25 high schools across the state.
The $250,000 program is funded through grant money from Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs, or GEAR UP, a U.S. Education Department grant program designed to help low-income students go to college. The grant expires in 2018.
The liaisons work with students from families where going to college isn't common. The liaisons are based in five community colleges statewide: Rose State College in Midwest City, Murray State College in Tishomingo, Tulsa Community College, Northern Oklahoma College in Tonkawa, and Western Oklahoma State College in Altus.
From those campuses, the liaisons work with students at the 25 high schools across the state that are a part of the GEAR UP program. The liaisons arrange college visits, help students understand applications and financial aid paperwork and speak with students and parents about ACT and SAT preparation, said Kristi Allison, the school and student communications specialist for Oklahoma GEAR UP.
Once the first cohort of students is in college, the liaisons will continue to help them with issues like understanding their bursar bills and finding tutoring when they need it.
The State Regents don't yet have data to show how effective the program is. But Allison said the liaisons have already been able to make connections with students in their high schools.
Sarah Linn, the liaison at Northern Oklahoma College, said she's seen the difference the program has made. Linn works with students from Newkirk, Caney Valley, Woodward and Guymon high schools.
Students in those schools often have a set of needs different from students in urban areas or larger towns.
Those students may have less exposure to what college campuses look like simply because of geography, she said. For example, a high school student in Edmond goes to school just a few miles away from the University of Central Oklahoma.
That isn't the case for students from towns like Newkirk, she said, so campus visits are an important part of getting those students comfortable with the idea of college.
Most of the parents Linn works with didn't go to college themselves. By and large, Linn said, parents have been receptive to her help. They want their children to go to college, she said, but they often don't know where to begin.
“If you've never done it before, it's a whole new world,” she said.