By Mark F. Gray, AFRO Staff Writer, mgray@afro.com

For more than 20 years, PeerForward, formerly known as College Summit, has been on the cutting edge of helping bridge the gap between high school and college by using positive peer pressure on high school students to influence their decisions to continue their education. More than 350,000 high school graduates around the country have chosen to continue their post secondary education after being a part of their peer facilitation efforts.

During an assembly on Prince George’s Community College’s Largo campus, this year’s facilitators took their oath of leadership as the peers for a new year of students. In an annual tradition, the swearing in ceremony ushered in the era of a new group of facilitators who have more impact on the students and their teachers or counselors. The high school juniors inherited the responsibilities of leadership amongst their peers and were charged with the task of motivation and guiding pupils from low income communities.

Formerly known as College Summit, PeerForward has been on the cutting edge of bridging the gap between high school and college through positive peer pressure. (Courtesy Photo)

According to their website PeerForward has helped students collect more than $15 million in assistance since it launched. From their inception, the organization understood that there was a great untapped resource in American education – the students themselves. They train students to use the power of peer influence to motivate students to plan for, apply to, and succeed in higher education.  

“PeerForward made me want to learn and do better in life,” said alumna and N.C. Central freshman Hanya Boler, from Laurel High School. “Seniors and juniors have been coming up to me. If I can help them, then I’m doing my job.”

The recommended counselor-to-student ratio is 1 to 250, according to the American School Counselor Association. However, the national average is one student to 464 counselors. Researchers estimate that in some high schools in low-income neighborhoods, the ratio is as high as 1 to 1,000. College access programs reach a small portion of the students who most need their services. Students average only 38 minutes of individual time with an academic counselor during their high school years. 

Teams make college counseling easier for low-income high schools to make higher education an attainable goal. PeerForward’s strategy is to train, deploy, and develop a team of high school students. They identify groups of juniors and seniors who are influential to their peers and trains them to run campaigns in their respective schools.Those campaigns include applying to college, applying for financial aid and connecting academics to career choices. 

“That’s what hooked me, the power of that peer model. It’s not teacher-led, it’s led by students” said Suitland High School Principal Nathan Newman. “When we look back, five to ten years from now, we’ll look back at those students who’ve gone on to do great things, I can bet money they will have come through this program.”

Their research concludes enrollment chances rise for college acceptance based on number of applications that are submitted. Students applying to one or two schools can raise a student’s probability of enrollment by 40 percent while submitting an additional application increases the probability by another 10 percent. 

Students who file the FAFSA  (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) early are 50 percent more likely to  enroll in college, and timely filing can double the amount of grant funding awarded and that a student who makes a connection between college and his or her career goals is six times more likely to earn a college degree than one who doesn’t.