Diversity a plus for college-bound District 219 grads
DISTRICT: Niles Township High School District 219
SCHOOLS: Niles North, Niles West
FACTS & FIGURES: 93 percent of Niles North grads go to college, and 93.7 percent of Niles West grads
Updated: July 15, 2012 2:24PM
Even with the rapidly increasing cost of college, Jerry Pope encourages students at Niles North and Niles West high schools to aim for top schools, ones where surprisingly they may be able to find the most financial help.
That, he said, is especially true for District 219, which has about a third of its students who qualify for free and reduced-price lunches, students with a wide diversity of ethnic and religious backgrounds, as well as the school’s excellent educational reputation — all things many colleges and universities look for when they give out grants, scholarships and other types of financial assistance.
For Niles Township High School District 219, Pope’s efforts have paid off.
Among members of the Niles North class of 2011, the last class for which the district has accurate data, 93 percent of students when on to college. A full 59 percent went to four-year schools and 34 percent to two-year schools such as Oakton Community College. The remainder, Pope said, entered the military, took jobs or enrolled in technical and trade schools.
Figures were similar at Niles West, where 93.7 percent of students when to college, of whom 62.3 percent to a four-year school and 31.4 percent to a two-school school.
Pope, the district’s national college advisor, said the district’s efforts to reach students and parents have been worthwhile.
Among the Top 25 schools that District 219 students apply to are some of the top colleges and universities in the country.
They include Bradley University, Washington University, Purdue and Northwestern.
Pope said that what some outside the district see as its biggest obstacles are in truth some of its greatest assets when it comes to placing students in college.
District families speak 70 different languages. At Niles North 57 percent of students are non-white while at Niles west that figure is 50 percent.
“It does present some challenges,” Pope said. “But our diversity is also our greatest strength.”
On the positive side, Pope said, many colleges and universities look at District 219 as a place to recruit minority students to help bolster their own student body’s diversity. That can often mean better offers with more financial assistance, especially at more costly private colleges.
“Unfortunately, a lot of college students look like me,” said Pope, who is white. “Many colleges want to look more like the rest of the world.”
At the same time, though, in many cases students from immigrant families will be the first ever to attend college. That is something Pope can identify with since he was the first in his family, as well.
As a first generation kid myself, if it wasn’t for teachers and counselors who helped me I wouldn’t have known what was possible. College is possible and affordable,” Pope said.
District 219 offers programs for both parents of students who will be the first in their families to attend college and for the students themselves. In many cases, he said, students have never even seen a college campus.
As a way to introduce them to campus life the district arranges buses to take primarily junior-class members on a tour of some schools so that they can see what it’s like.
“All of a sudden they can see themselves at college,” Pope said.
The district, which offers the largest college fairs in the area, also provides translators at the events to help parents talk with college recruiters and become more familiar with the process in their native language.
It helps prevent the sticker shock that his own father had when Pope was applying to school.
“He saw the cost and said we absolutely cannot afford it,” Pope recalled. “My father was shocked.”
But like his own students now, a combination of grants, a part-time job and scholarships made college affordable for Pope.
Even now, he said, he encourages students and parents to approach college in some respects as though they were buying an airline ticket or a car. He tells them to negotiate with colleges to obtain the most assistance possible.
“You wouldn’t take the first offer from a car dealer,” he said. “You’d try more than one dealership before you buy.”
He also said students and their families should not go into lifetime debt for college as some have in recent years, as college and university tuition and other costs have skyrocketed.
The cost at Northwestern, for example, is up to $61,000 a year, Pope said. “Over four years you’ve bought a house,” he said.
He added: “Families should not destroy their finances to pay for college.”
The students most in need, though, are often those best-able to get assistance to bring that cost down.
“Most of them are getting some kind of grant or scholarship,” Pope said.
Even students who do not plan to go to college when they graduate, Pope said, need to be “college-ready.”
Some of them may enter the military with the idea of going to college later. Even those without college plans, though, need to have some basic skills, he said.
“Every kid has to be college-ready,” Pope said.
Pope said the students who do go on to higher learning benefit not just themselves and their families, but society, as well.
“We’re all-in this together. I’ve never forgotten that in high school somebody reached out to me,” he said.