iLEAD Exploration Advisor Puts College in Reach for All Learners

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High school counselors work tirelessly to support their students’ efforts to attend the colleges and universities of their choice. And although these efforts produce tremendous results for some, iLEAD Exploration’s College and Career Advisor Laura Kazan is not satisfied with the status quo.

Redefining the Mission

Kazan is not just focused on getting learners into college. She’s focused on the systemic factors that keep some learners out of college or from seeking opportunities in higher education at all.

In her work as a university researcher, Kazan studied how social capital and networks influence learners’ post-high school choices and success.

“The truth is that my dissertation work came to life,” Kazan said. “I began to see in real time how parent networks push learners up or down when it comes to college.”

Creating the Infrastructure

Kazan’s initial call to action crystallized with the formation of College Seekers, a nonprofit organization aimed at educating parents and communities.

“I had to choose between helping individuals and making a broader contribution,” Kazan said.

She began doing workshops focused on educating parents and gaining a better understanding of their networks.

Three years ago, Kazan’s workshops began to attract larger groups and led to the formation of the Facebook Group CA Homeschool College Seekers.

She knew that homeschool families faced unique pressures. “When you homeschool your child, you feel the responsibility for your child’s education at a greater level,” Kazan said.

Her ongoing mission now is focused on sharing accurate information and relieving unnecessary anxiety. “We try to be the face of choice and success,” Kazan said.

The Current Effort

Two years ago, Kazan was approached by iLEAD Exploration’s Codirector Heather Ferenc about supporting their learners. Kazan saw this as an ideal opportunity to work for an organization that would embrace her philosophies and dramatically impact the entire college mystique for a large homeschool community.

Along with iLEAD Exploration parents, facilitators and leaders, Kazan works closely with lead counselor Bethany Maddox and her team. Together, they embrace the vision that every learner has the potential to go to college.

“We challenge the assumption that college is for certain learners only,” Kazan said. “Some of the work is just about providing the right information.”

Myths, Misinformation

One common area of misinformation, according to Kazan, is revealed in the A-G course list, the high school courses that the University of California (UC) and California State University (CSU) systems require of applicants.

Kazan said that although this is the standard system that high schools and their counselors have adopted, it’s also at odds with much of what the homeschooling community is all about.

“Parents and families come to us and others like us for educational freedom,” Kazan said. “A-G is at odds with this.”

This is where information and education are important, according to Kazan.

“The first thing is that this list only matters if you’re going to attend a UC or CSU school,” Kazan said. “And although these are fine options, they represent only a small fraction of available options.”

While California’s UC and CSUs accept only particular chemistry courses that have met the A-G requirement, Kazan points out that 4,000 other institutions across the country don’t have that same requirement.

Additionally, Kazan pointed out that a high schooler can meet A-G requirements by taking college courses concurrently. “One can, in theory, meet all of the A-G requirements by successfully completing nine community college courses,” she said.

Dual enrollment programs have now made this possible for many learners.

Finally, Kazan points out that another obstacle she’s helping families overcome is misperceptions about educational costs. Across the country, she said, the average tuition discount is 52 percent. Additionally, Kazan said there are about 70 colleges that fill the gap between cost and what one can afford.

Proper Advising

Kazan said that good information and personalized college advising are now more important than ever before.

“You don’t know what you don’t know,” Kazan said. “Once I explain how it works, it makes sense. There are always alternative pathways.”

Ultimately, Kazan said she and the team at iLEAD Exploration are helping all learners and their families to be aware of all their options and ultimately make the right choices for them.

“If you understand your learner’s needs and financial ability, we can help you find the right path. My goal is to guide learners to the most appropriate postsecondary pathway, whether that’s a four-year school, a community college, a technical school, or a military certificate program,” Kazan said. “But I do want them to know their options and plan out before they leave. They need to know what to ask.”

To help guide learners’ college and career journeys, Kazan facilitates an elective course called College Explorations, and her team uses such resources as SCOIR and You Science.

Customer Feedback / Learner Experiences

iLEAD Exploration senior Skye Popov has been accepted to over a dozen colleges and universities, including CalArts, San Diego State University, UC Santa Cruz and University of San Francisco. However, Popov said initially she was terrified and skeptical of not only applying to colleges but attending them as well. Popov said Kazan has supported her every step of the way in the long journey to higher education.

“In addition to always providing timely and valuable information, [Kazan] showed me kindness and patience throughout this entire process,” Popov said. “Even in the dark months of waiting for decisions, she was there, always a helpful hand.”

Popov said that many of her peers are often overwhelmed and intimated by the college admissions process and that she believes it’s vital for all learners to have a professional advocate like Kazan in their corner.

“I cannot express how grateful I am to have had Ms. Kazan helping me through it all,” Popov said. “My family considers her a friend for life.”

Onward and Upward

Kazan is driven by a unique passion to educate families on the plethora of postsecondary options and opportunities, according to Lara Durrell, iLEAD Exploration’s Director of Communications and Operations.

“Through her tireless efforts, she develops creative solutions and unique pathways, making it possible for all learners to attend a college or university,” Durrell said. “She is an inspiring influencer of families and educators alike, always emphasizing the importance of a high school portfolio that showcases rigorous academics with intentional activities and service.”

Kazan feels that she and iLEAD Exploration are at the beginning of this journey. She said that she and her team are working to provide a culture in which learners aim high.

“We want to be the homeschool destination for those who want to go to college,” Kazan said.

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