Helping students succeed through ECMC's College Nights

This spring, ECMC's annual college planning events, College Nights, were held at a record number of sites—134—in Virginia, Oregon, Connecticut, California and Tennessee. This is the 11th year for Virginia and Oregon. College Nights were added in California and Connecticut in 2013, and 2017 marks the inaugural year in Tennessee.

We reached more than 14,000 students and families in 2017, and several participating high schools had impressive attendance numbers:

  • James Logan High School, Union City, California—424 attendees
  • Jefferson County High School, Dandridge, Tennessee—374 attendees
  • White County High School, Sparta, Tennessee—333 attendees
  • Louisa County High School, Mineral, Virginia—330 attendees
  • Willamette High School, Eugene, Oregon—300 attendees

These events help students and their families understand how going to college can change their life, how to choose the right college, how to navigate the financial aid process, and how to find scholarships and avoid scholarship scams. Our focus is on reaching the highest need students and families. College Nights are traditionally held at high schools where eligibility for free and reduced lunch is 50 percent or greater. In addition, we sponsor the events at a few community colleges in rural, high-need areas where it makes sense for the events to be centrally located.

We also have a desire to help students earlier in the college-going process. As a result, ECMC's College Nights have been moved from the fall to early spring (February 1-April 30) and primarily target high school juniors and their families. The evening's program complements the Opportunities booklets, which are updated and published annually to help students and families prepare for college.

Tennessee's 30 Advise TN high schools were a great addition to College Nights this year. Our collaboration with Advise TN—a program developed by the Tennessee Higher Education Commission and the governor of Tennessee to place advisors in 30 state high schools in hopes of helping students enroll in postsecondary education—allowed us to quickly expand to help students and families across the state.

In Virginia, ECMC's College Nights are part of a collaboration with the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) on the "1, 2, 3 Go! Virginia's Road to College" initiative. The program is a series of events including:

  • "1" College Nights to help students and families understand the process of applying and paying for college.
  • "2" Virginia College Application Week to encourage students to submit at least one college application.
  • "3" Super FAFSA Project to get hands-on help to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.
  • "Go!" which is Decision Day in Virginia, to recognize and celebrate all seniors and their plans for postsecondary education.

Students and families who attended were very appreciative of College Nights. The following is a sample of the great feedback we received.

"The presenters told me about so many different things about college that I never knew before. As a freshman this year, College Nights really opened my eyes on what I need to do to go to college. It was a great experience! I can't wait to come back next year!"

"I liked the handouts and the Opportunities workbook the most—very helpful!"

"The event went well, I thought it had great information. I really enjoyed the presentation and the speakers were very clear."

We also received great feedback about holding an ECMC College Nights event from our site hosts:

"The staff was exceptional when I had questions or made requests. I am thankful for this, because it helped me remember that I was not in this alone. Having a team, even if distant in location, was motivating. With each event, we are all winners, including the students."

As the sponsor, ECMC provides each site with posters for marketing the event, an event presentation, welcome posters, evaluation forms, scholarship entry forms, pens, balloons, volunteer T-shirts, reimbursement for pizza and refreshments (up to $600 per site), and three $500 scholarships that are given in a random drawing at each event.

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