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University of Utah, SLCC programs guide low-income and diverse students to life beyond high school

Any form of higher education can open doors to economic advancement

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) High school students attend a multicultural conference and college recruitment event at Salt Lake Community College in Taylorsville, Friday, Nov. 5, 2021. The event helped students navigate the application and financial aid processes, which could be applied to other higher education programs.

This story is part of The Salt Lake Tribune’s ongoing commitment to identify solutions to Utah’s biggest challenges through the work of the Innovation Lab.

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At the beginning of her senior year at Hunter High School, Sarah Moore never expected she would graduate from the University of Utah. That dream just didn’t seem attainable.

By the end of her senior year at the West Valley City school, however, she knew she could do it. The next year, Moore enrolled at the U. with a full-ride scholarship. She graduated last spring with a degree in international studies with a focus on Asian studies.

She gives credit to an adviser with the Utah College Advising Corps (UCAC) for getting her through the confusing process of applying for college and finding the financial aid to actually attend.

“I don’t think without her I would have been able to do it,” Moore said, referring to her adviser. “It was just so overwhelming when I was younger.”

Since graduating, she’s gone back to her high school -- this time in a role where she can help the students in her community find their own paths to higher education.

Moore is now an adviser with Utah College Advising Corps (UCAC), a program run by the U. to help high school seniors navigate the path to education after high school. That could be a four-year degree from the U., a two-year degree from Salt Lake Community College or a certificate program for a trade from one of the state’s technical colleges -- the advisers aren’t there as recruitment officers for any specific program.

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) Christina Souknarong, left, and Deepika Shah KC lead a breakout discussion on Asian and Asian American ÒotheringÓ with high school students at a multicultural conference and college recruitment event at Salt Lake Community College in Taylorsville, Friday, Nov. 5, 2021.

UCAC is one of several programs aimed at opening doors to higher education for high school students, as few stable and well-paying jobs are available with just a high school diploma.

Moore is one of thousands of students who have been helped by UCAC.

Moore’s adviser at Hunter helped her envision herself actually achieving a degree. She also showed her the multitude of opportunities for students just like her.

A big concern for Moore was funding -- she didn’t know how she could pay for college.

Her adviser guided her through filling out the Free Application for Student Aid (FAFSA) and showed her where she could apply for scholarships. Moore was even able to receive fee waivers for filing college applications.

In the years since her 2017 graduation, Moore has even helped her older sister apply for college using the same skills she learned through UCAC.

Economic opportunities opened through education

Granite School District, which oversees Hunter, is one of many working to ensure students are able to seek out and enroll in higher education programs from universities, colleges and trade schools -- any of which can lead to better economic opportunities.

“It’s about a future by choice, not by chance,” said Judy Petersen, Granite Schools director of college and career readiness.

With many schools in some of the Salt Lake Valley’s low-income communities, some Granite Schools students face more difficult paths for education.

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) High school students attend a multicultural conference and college recruitment event at Salt Lake Community College in Taylorsville, Friday, Nov. 5, 2021.

Moore is the daughter of immigrant parents, neither of whom completed their high school education. Unlike many students from more affluent families, she didn’t have anyone at home to teach her about the college process.

UCAC was able to help her into college, and now, Moore said, she’s able to show students just like her that college is possible for them.

“I feel more connection with my students,” Moore said. “I get to tell them, ‘Hey I graduated from Hunter. I was able to go to school. I did not have to pay for school. Come to me if you need help.’”

After graduation, “a big step”

UCAC’s goal isn’t to funnel students into the U., said Nicole Batt, assistant dean of the U.’s Office of Engagement and executive director of the Utah College Advising Corps. The advisers, who can be found in about 50 schools, talk with students about any option the student is interested in.

Batt, who was the first in her family to attend college, said she enjoys helping other students overcome some of the barriers that she faced by helping them understand the application processes, how to leverage financial aid and how to find the right fit.

“We really want to make sure we’re giving students all the information so that they can make educated decisions about the next stage of their lives,” Batt said. “This is a big step for them.”

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) Matthew Wong leads a breakout session on college applications as high school students attend a multicultural conference and college recruitment event at Salt Lake Community College in Taylorsville, Friday, Nov. 5, 2021.

Moore said she’s talked with students about aiming higher as well. A student who had been pushed toward cosmetology school may instead seek a history degree and study fashion history. A student who is resigned to become a mechanic might instead look into a mechanical engineering degree.

“We might be from the west side, but we still need to be represented,” Moore said she tells the students at Hunter. “There’s still opportunities for you to go to school.”

SLCC offers guidance

Salt Lake Community College is also working with students across the county to encourage education after high school.

“Any of [a variety of educational programs] get you on a path for a better life and a lot more opportunity,” director of admissions Kate Gildea-Broderick said.

Earlier this month, before the bright autumn leaves fell on campus, SLCC welcomed about 100 high school students for a conference on higher education. Students didn’t need to be applying to SLCC to attend -- facilitators instead used their knowledge of the application process and college life to explain what it might be like for these students, no matter where they attend.

Programs like these “take away a little bit of the intimidation factor” of college, Gildea-Broderick said.

One of the day’s presenters Matthew Wong earned his associates degree from SLCC before going to the U. for his bachelor and masters degrees. He told students about his own experiences while describing the type of degrees students can earn, the difference between full-time and part-time credit loads and the need for independent planning after high school.

But amid the suggestions and ideas, Wong stressed that it’s important for the students to determine what will work best for them.

SLCC hosts two-day orientations for Granite’s high school students before they even graduate, covering everything from updating their applications with current grades, checking that they have financial aid set and registering them for classes.

“Usually about a month before they graduate from high school, they have their schedule, they have their orientation done, their placement,” Gildea-Broderick said, “everything ready so they’re ready to just show up on campus in August.”

Moore, with UCAC, helps seniors every step of the way -- even sophomores and juniors if they seek her help -- to graduation. She sees herself as an access point for students whose families may not have a college background -- just as she herself didn’t.

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) Christina Souknarong and Deepika Shah KC lead a breakout discussion on Asian and Asian American ÒotheringÓ with high school students at a multicultural conference and college recruitment event at Salt Lake Community College in Taylorsville, Friday, Nov. 5, 2021.

Even admissions officers at colleges admit that the process of applying and enrolling can be confusing. Moore picks up that thread by working as a guide. She also knows an important way for students to learn the process is to ask questions, no matter how simple.

“Honestly, anything they can do to help themselves propel into the future to help benefit themselves,” Moore said, “that’s never a dumb question.”

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