State’s Direct Admissions program opens doors to the future

Published 9:53 am Thursday, October 19, 2023

Austin Public Schools is getting in on the ground floor of a state program that hopefully will open the doors for more kids when it comes to college admission.

On Wednesday afternoon, Austin High School seniors opened personal envelopes for them that laid out a list of colleges that they are preapproved for admittance through Minnesota Department of Education’s Direct Admissions program.

Based on GPA and courses already completed through a student’s junior year, the program is designed to take out the “what if” anxieties related to applying to postsecondary education.

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“I’m excited for our class,” said senior Olivia Leeman, Austin High School student body president. “There were a lot of us who made it and the last four years have been rough. We’re going on to pursue super successful rolls and it’s super exciting for us.”

Austin was one of the first schools in the state chosen for the program because of the socio-economic diversity that is seen throughout the school district according to Principal of Alternative Programs Jessica Cabeen.

In total, 120 schools throughout the state are taking part in the program.

Now that the students have met the criteria for the program, the next steps will include a survey for parents and students followed by much of the same processes including applying.

However, because they are now in this Direct Admissions program, students can apply for free to the 55 colleges and universities taking part. 

“It takes out the anxiety of will I get in or will I not,” Cabeen said. “You already know the answer.”

More importantly though, it helps answer the question for students and families of whether or not they even can go to college.

For some students taking part in Wednesday’s ceremony, it was eye-opening.

“I was surprised that there were a lot of colleges,” said Duna Oteng. “I don’t know if I want to go to college, but it shows more options if I do want to go to college.”

Oteng was sitting next to Marie Tolbert when the letters were opened and the excitement of what they were reading was reflected across both of their faces. Tolbert, like Oteng, was unsure whether or not she would go to college.

Knowing that there are options before her is more motivation to give the future more serious thought.

“I think it pushes me more to do it,” Tolbert said. “If I didn’t have this paper, I would probably apply to one school. This paper shows me there’s other schools that want you. There’s still other options for you.”

Not all of the students were in attendance Wednesday because they either take part in AHS’ Online Academy or had other obligations.

But the reality is that not all of AHS’ seniors qualified and that reflects that more work is required in the coming years to try and ensure more and more students qualify for Direct Admissions.

But that’s the goal of the program — motivation for the future.

“Some students aren’t quite on track yet, so if they get on track we’ll be able to get them a letter as well,” Cabeen said. “They may not be ready to graduate today, but we hope it starts to motivate students to get college ready.”

Cabeen continued by saying that Wednesday’s success stories will likely have a trickle-down effect.

“I think it’s going to motivate our juniors, our sophomores, our freshmen to know, ‘my gosh, if I’m on track to graduate, this could be me,’” she said. 

At the same time, Direct Admissions works hand-in-hand with already established efforts to get more kids into postsecondary education avenues including the Austin Assurance Program that offers free education to students in Austin who attend Riverland Community College.

The newly created APS initiative Packer Profile is another avenue Direct Admissions works along side with.

“The strategic envisioning of our district is really going to help us work together on a common goal,” Cabeen said. “We all still have work to do. While we have work to do it’s important to stop and celebrate the milestones and the progress.”

For the students themselves, Wednesday was an exciting step forward.

“I’m glad that they did this because it shows more that we have options,” Oteng said. “You don’t  have to pick one college. You can apply to more than one college.”

It was equally emotional for Cabeen who knew these students going back to her time as principal at Ellis Middle School. She saw first hand the challenges some of the students were facing.

It marked how proud staff themselves are with the progress of the students.

“I think just being in middle school and watching some of the challenges that these families go through,” Cabeen said, holding back tears. “They need this opportunity and being here last year and watching some of our students work really hard to get through, this is just amazing that people outside of Austin now know how amazing and incredible these kids are.”

“It was neat to watch the staff because they saw kids that have worked really, really hard to get the letter,” she added.