The challenges associate with at-risk youth and higher education

How mentoring programs can assist at-risk youth with exposure to higher education.

Many Americans are raised in families where a college education is a given privilege with accessible financial resources. In these cases, college preparation begins as early as elementary school with discussions about various universities, friendly college rivalries and the hopes of following in parents’ footsteps by attending their alma mater. Others, according to Michigan State University Extension, prepare for college by taking advanced placement courses, studying for the ACT/SAT and participating in career exploration activities. College preparation and career exploration activities may include job shadowing, internships, college tours, and support from family members and school counselors.

Many at-risk youth may not have as many opportunities to help them prepare for college. They may attend overcrowded classes where teachers and counselors are overwhelmed and can barely conduct lessons due to negative behavioral disruptions. Youth may find it difficult to focus on their college plans in a school district with fewer resources, deplorable conditions, unsafe neighborhoods, and numerous responsibilities that exceed completing homework and chores when they get home from school. Unfortunately, too many youth with these circumstances possess mindsets that do not extend far beyond high school to higher education. This is not due to their intelligence levels or the ability to excel, but the lack of exposure and resources. In order for a young person to dream and plan about college, they need a close point of reference who takes an interest in assisting them (a parent, family member, friend, neighbor, role model or teacher). 

Mentoring programs can serve as a resource for at-risk youth and assist in exposing them to college preparation and career exploration activities. Mentors can stand in the gap and offer experiences that at-risk youth may not have access to. Mentoring interactions can be hands on in the form of service learning projects and participation in college tours. Various mentoring programs also offer workshops and activities in the areas of skill building, goal setting and career exploration. Consider exploring the College Positive Mentoring Toolkit by Mentor Michigan which is full of ideas for exposing mentees of all ages to post-secondary education.

As you work with different youth groups, remember that all young people don’t have the same privileges and resources associated with higher education. But, when given the opportunity (and possibly a mentor) they can persevere and accomplish great things.

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