College Connect is an enrichment program that gives high school students from disadvantaged backgrounds an opportunity to take a college-level class during the summer — an opportunity that opens up their understanding of the “why” and “how” of going to college after they graduate. 

“First-generation students, low-income students, and students of color often face difficulties navigating higher education,” says Glenna Ousley, director, Community Outreach, Center for Access and Attainment. “They need information — ‘yes, they can go to college; yes, they should go to college; and here’s how.’
 
"Through College Connect, we introduce students to college-level academics, but we also stress college readiness — social, cultural, and financial competence. Our intent is to build up these students’ confidence by introducing them to college-level expectations for class performance, group projects, writing, and critical thinking. Of course, at the same time, the program can be a pathway to DePaul.”
 

In 2011, a total of 132 students applied to the program:

  • 96 accepted and 61 attended
  • 63% were Latino and 26% were African American
  • 63% were female
  • 41 were entering their senior year of high school
  • For the seniors, DePaul waived its application fee: 29 applied, 22 were admitted, and 13 enrolled 

“These numbers are terrific,” says Amanda Parada-Villatoro, assistant director, Community Outreach, Center for Access and Attainment.

“Our intent was to encourage the students to apply to college — not just DePaul — and we provided every support in that effort. Twenty-four seniors reported being admitted to a total of 32 colleges and universities: 13 seniors reported receiving nearly $1 million in scholarship offers from universities and private organizations. One of our program participants got accepted at eight schools!”

Behind the program’s success is its use of peer guides — current DePaul students who go to the classes and do the assignments, side-by-side with the program participants, all the time acting as mentors and tutors and generally making the high school students feel at ease on campus. The peer guides also host College Thursdays, a once-a-week presentation on topics, such as leadership or study time management, designed to inspire and motivate.

“Our peer guides paint a picture of college, in all its facets, from a student’s point of view — and they knock it out of the park,” says Parada-Villatoro. “I can’t say enough about the value they add to the program. Even after the high school students enroll in college, the peer guides continue to be a source of information, comfort, and security for new freshmen — especially for those who come to DePaul.”

One of those peer guides, Lorell Pitts (BS ’13) found it easy to connect to the College Connect students:

“I grew up in Englewood, and I was not über-successful in high school — that would be a wonderful story, but it’s not mine. I didn’t like going to school, but when I was a senior something clicked, and I started making up for lost time. I‘m the kid who got out of a rut, and in the program I was able to share why that matters. A lot of the students could relate to my history. Now, I’m working as an intern in the undergraduate admissions office. I love the program, and I still keep in touch with the kids I mentored.”

William Manzo (BS ’12) says that, as a first-generation, minority college student, he could help the high school students think about college realistically and practically:

“The students liked talking to us — we were intermediaries between them and the instructors, and we were able to give them a lot of information they needed, like how to apply for financial aid. Now, I work in the Admissions Office, so I see one of the students who came to DePaul all the time — I think he was happy to know one person on campus, right away. For the kids I met when I was a peer guide, College Connect made a real difference in their lives.”