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Conference educates parents, students on getting into college

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High school students and their parents take a tour of the University of North Georgia's Dahlonega Campus during a recent College Access Conference held by the university.

The University of North Georgia (UNG) brought 240 high school students and parents to two, one-day College Access Conferences designed to expose them to college opportunities and discuss paths to earning a college degree.

Sophomores and juniors from Banks, Fannin, Hall, and Lumpkin counties spent the day hearing information about financial aid and college admission processes, but also specific information about academic programs offered by UNG.

"If your goal is to get a bachelor's degree, but you don't have the grades and the SAT scores to gain admission into a bachelor's degree program, you can still come to UNG, a four-year university, by starting an associate degree program and transitioning seamlessly into a bachelor's program," said Keith Antonia, executive director of undergraduate admissions.

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Parents listen to a presentation about admissions, financial
aid and other college-related topics during a College Access
Conference held at UNG.

The daylong events on the Dahlonega Campus in February connected students and their parents – sometimes in separate sessions – with representatives from UNG admissions, financial aid, and first year experience. The day included campus tours, lunch at the university dining hall and interaction with UNG student leaders to provide exposure to college life.

Mackenzey Garrison from Lumpkin County High School said he attended the conference with his parents to learn more about the university's military program.

"I'm interested in being in the Corps of Cadets, and I wanted to come see what UNG is all about," he said. "Getting to meet and talk to some of the students and seeing some of the buildings was awesome. I'm going to try my hardest to come here."

Phyllis Gouine said her oldest son, Dylan, became interested in going to college after scoring well on the PSAT, and they attended the College Access Conference. She wanted to learn more about financial aid possibilities, a topic discussed at length during a session for parents.

"This is a complete learning process for us, and we believe the more informed we are, the better he's going to be. We thought this would be a good opportunity for us to learn more about what's out there and what we're going to have to do to make it happen," she said.

College guidance counselors and graduation coaches, like Lynn Suggs from Banks County High School, find events like UNG's College Access Conference very beneficial. She attended both sessions with Banks County students and their parents.

"They need to step foot on a campus. I take students to 10 or more college trips every year," Suggs said. "I think it's so much better when parents come with them, because they can see and experience what's there. I think it's a great opportunity."

The conferences were sponsored by the Georgia Appalachian Center for Higher Education (GACHE) and grants from Communities in Schools and the College Access Challenge Grant. Many of the students who attended were potential first-generation college students.

"When first-generation students are exposed to the possibilities of going to college, they begin to think about college as a possibility," said Shirley Davis, GACHE director. "Having students begin to see themselves on a college campus, combined with the higher expectations of teachers and parents, really pays off in whether or not students see themselves as college material." 

Enhancing partnerships with k-12 schools and improving access and completion for students traditionally underserved are two goals of UNG's Complete College Georgia plan. Complete College Georgia was announced by Gov. Nathan Deal as a statewide initiative in the wake of a 2011 study that found Georgia will need to increase the percentage of its population with some level of college completion to 60 percent to meet projected workforce needs.

"During the eight years GACHE has been funding events like the College Access Conference throughout Georgia's Appalachian counties, we have collected data that shows an increase in the college enrollment rates of our high schools," Davis said. "We plan to continue these very important events as long as funding allows."

Suggs said she feels working with GACHE on events to expose high school students to college opportunities is having a positive effect.

"I've worked with GACHE for eight years and, to me, I think these events have been a factor in helping our graduation rate. When I first started, our graduation rate was 71 percent, and now we're at 89 percent," she said. "There are a lot of factors, but when the students visit colleges, they think 'I want to go there!' and it inspires them to do better so they can finish high school and go to college."

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