Lecture Hall: Lecturer Mandy Savitz-RomerBy Lory Hough
When it comes to helping young people get to college, practitioners are often left scratching their heads, wondering what went wrong when matriculation doesn’t happen. All too often, these same practitioners don’t look beyond the traditional areas of college planning: academic prep, information sharing, and financial support. Although these areas are important, writes Mandy Savitz-Romer in her new book, Ready, Willing, and Able, there’s a critical element that has largely been missing in college prep: adolescent development. By not taking this into account, she writes with Ed School researcher Suzanne Bouffard, “the most vulnerable young people don’t just miss the boat; they aren’t even on the deck.” In January, Savitz-Romer, director of the Prevention Science and Practice Program and a former school counselor, spoke to Ed. about adolescent development, college days, and the challenge of writing a book.
What got you thinking about this issue?
Having been an urban high school counselor for several years, I often think about those students who didn’t seem ready for any of the supports that were in place, or the ones who never came to see themselves as future college-goers. When I think of the ones who, despite so many risk factors, made their way to and through college, I wonder about the role their own resiliency and developmental maturity played. I was aware, even at the time, that most college preparation programs focused almost exclusively on those students who already possessed the personal resources and capacities that were necessary to chart a college-going path. Many others were, and still are, left behind.
The goal of the book is . . .
To show how an understanding of development in relation to college readiness can help make sense of what happens when best efforts don’t seem to work. It is not as if practitioners don’t know how to work with their students, and for many in this field, they already have a deep knowledge of development. However, the links between future planning and adolescent development have not been made clear.
So it’s not just that kids lack information or the desire to go to college?
A common presumption has been that low-income, first-generation students don’t possess college-going aspirations, or that they lack information about what is required and necessary. Yet, if you look around, there are so many programs designed to promote higher aspirations and disseminate information.
More information isn’t the answer?
Too many youth hear that information but do not take it in, or they fail to act on it. We need an approach that addresses the foundation — the core of youth and who they are — before the informational campaigns and college application programs can really benefit.
How is adolescent development actually connected to going to college?
The book focuses on four developmental processes: identity, motivation, self-regulation, and relationship formation and management. For example, students need to be able to picture themselves as college students in order to form a college-going identity. This requires an understanding of what goes into forming one’s self-concept and identity.
Can school counselors take on more and do everything for students?
That would be a tall order, wouldn’t it? Having done this work, I know firsthand that there is little time for more, but that there is absolutely room for how.
What do you mean?
I hope that what practitioners take from this book is that they can continue to focus on academic skill building, information sharing, aspiration forming, and financial literacy using developmental principles. It is not in addition to, but rather by way of.
Give me an example.
The growing trend in schools to have “college days” in which faculty and staff wear college sweatshirts and homerooms are named after colleges. For a young person who thinks, “I’m not college material,” or whose self-description doesn’t include “college student,” seeing others with college sweatshirts will not do much to make them believe they could or should go to college. But when these strategies are paired with other efforts that provide students with the support to reflect on multiple aspects of their identities, they are likely to be meaningful to more students.
In one sentence: hardest part about writing a book.
It is the same challenge as answering this question — figuring out what to include and what to leave out.