Study on Louisiana TOPS Program Reveals Ethnic and Income Gaps…Why I’m not Surprised.

graduation hat and money

A recent Advocate article reveals that a majority of the TOPS Scholarships recipients are from white, high income families. While Higher Education administrators see numbers, I have an on the ground perspective.  From this view, I am not surprised by what they found. While I am a proponent on policy changes to help increase access for minority and low-come students, I believe you can see results quicker if you create your own success.  I created E_Source Learning Solutions for those low-income and/or minority families who want to create their own college success.  However, for every one student that I see that has a solid college plan, I encounter several others that do not have one at all.  So these are the following observations that have caused me not to be surprised by the findings. Sadly, a majority of these observations do include the students from minority and/or low-income families.

  1. Many students wait to late to seriously prepare for the ACT.
  2. Many parents do not invest in ACT preparation whether it be in time or effort. There are many free preparation opportunities that are underutilized.
  3. Many students do not understand the value of receiving a thousands of dollars and what that means for their family and their future.
  4. Many parents are not fully aware of the TOPS requirements and rely on high school counselors to make sure their students meet those requirements.

In my humble opinion, the discrepancy is not the case of the have’s and have not’s is a situation of the know’s and know not’s, the do and do not’s. While most comments on this article are all over the place from racial discrimination to black fathers being in the household, I am more focused on personal accountability and practical solutions than theoretical conversations.

College Bound: Fall College Prep Checklist for 9th Grade Students

College success is not an automatic occurrence; it has to be intentionally crafted and planned.  In my line of work, I often see high school seniors who are way behind the college prep curve.  Unfortunately, these students are usually in the underrepresented populations (minority, low-income, first-generation).  I truly believe knowledge is power. With that, I have made it a life goal to make sure families are equipped with the right knowledge, at the right time, to make a good decisions about their child’s future.

Starting as early as the 9th grade, there are important things that parents and students can do to facilitate the college planning process. While senior year is the year to sign, seal, and deliver, the freshman year is the time to lay the foundation for a career path, college choice, and scholarships.  9th grade is a great time of exploration. Students should be exploring career options, talents, hobbies, and co-curricular interests.

graduation and books and diplomaAcademic. Make sure students do not fall behind in their Algebra I course.  This course is important to success in other math courses in  both high school and college.  If at all possible, arrange for a couple hours of after school tutoring to make sure they understand the material and to build up their confidence. For Louisiana parents, make sure you understand TOPS requirements and double check your child’s schedule to make sure they are taking the correct courses. 

Parents Career paths signpostshould encourage students to write down a broad list of possible careers and research them.  If they need a little help, they can take a free career aptitude test that gives several possible career options base on personal interest and preferences. With or without incentive 🙂 , students can report back to parents on the results of their career search.  For each possible career option, students should find out the educational requirements, salary range, locations, and potential employers.  Thinking about career paths early on can help narrow down college choices later.

Financial & Social.  While scholarships are appropriate to tackle in the junior year, students can begin to sharpen their competitive edge by joining organizations early.  Scholarship application reviewers like to see that students have attained leadership skills and are well rounded students.  However, the first step in becoming an officer or leader in an organization is to join early and become a dedicated member. Make sure your student diversifies their co-curricular activities by joining one academic, athletic, community service or a special interest group.


Buying for Success: Rethink Your College Supply List

August is near and school supplies will be front and center in all major stores.  Of course, all the usual items (e.g. paper, notebooks, pencils, pens) will be on every college student’s list. However, there a several items that are perfect for studying that most students would not consider putting in their shopping carts. These items are great for keeping study time fun and attention focused.

Dry Erase Board

Dry erase boards help students take a break from the normal pencil and notebook routine.  They are perfect for working math problems, outlining material, learning formulas or re-drawing diagrams.  In addition to studying, erasable boards are great for writing to-do lists or reminders. Small white boards are useful to have handy while seated at a desk, while larger ones that can be posted on the wall are ideal for those students who like to stand and be active.

Photo Credit: Patrick Guarino

Dry Erase Markers

No room to hang a dry erase board? No problem! Improvise and use bathroom and closet mirrors (gain your roommate’s permission) .  Using dry erase markers, write important formulas or vocabulary that you need to commit to memory on mirrored surfaces so that you can review them every time you go into the bathroom or get dressed.

Big Sticky Notes


Photo Credit:


The running theme here is to try other writing products besides pencils and paper.  Instead of a lot of little sticky notes, try big sticky notes!  Large self-adhesive sheets can be posted safely on walls.  Students can use these to create large and colorful outlines, charts and diagrams or big bold reminders. Butcher paper can work just as well.



Photo Credit: Elizabeth Skene

Balance Ball

If you are the fidgety type or you fall asleep quickly in a seated position, you can swap your chair for a balance ball when sitting at your desk.  Trying to stabilize yourself on the ball is enough activity to keep you awake and focused.


Ear Plugs

Ear plugs are great if you like the visuals of studying in a public place but just a little bit of noise.  Ear plugs shut just enough sound out to create your own study vibe.  It is a great alternative to listening to music if it is too distracting.



Play Dough

Play dough is another creative study tool if you can’t keep still during study time.  Moving and shaping the dough in your hand while studying can also improve your concentration and focus.  In addition to study time, play dough is useful in class to replace the nosier, more distracting habit of tapping your pencils on desks.




Who Graduates College? Take a guess!

I read a great New York Times post about how talented, low-income and minority students experience hardships on their path to getting their college degree. While the article highlights the socioeconomic gap that permeates college graduation rates, my message is clear: NO MATTER YOUR BACKGROUND, KNOWLEDGE and WISDOM fills any gap. As I have worked with hundreds of students as college academic coach, I see a pattern in those students who achieve and those students that don’t.  It’s not that they are incapable of doing these things, but no one has ever inform them of the best practices in getting a college education. Why aren’t they communicated is another discussion about whose job is it to REALLY prepare our student for college. There are 5 things students can do to overcome any educational hurdle and obtain a college degree. Unfortunately, these things are not communicated to parents and students and students walk blindly into college.

graduation hat and money

  1. Get involved in a bridge or transition program.  These programs are effective for so many reasons and many have proven to help retain and graduate more students from marginalize populations.
  2. Identify a peer, faculty, and staff mentor and foster a relationship.  Many low-income students are also the first to go to college in their immediate family, which means there are not as many people in their network to properly help them get adjusted to college.  However, establishing a mentoring relationships with faculty and staff can fill this gap.  Having a person of accountability and someone that can give you unbiased advice can help students remain focus and on track after theyencounter normal bumps and hurdles of college life.
  3. Utilize all campus resources especially academic support. This a biggie.  Tutorial services can be wrongfully thought of as remedial for some students.  However, students who use academic support services have higher grades than those that do not.
  4. Get involved in professional and social organizations.  Students who are social engaged on campus have a higher retention and graduation rate than those who just go to class and go home.
  5. Ask for help. With all the un-student friendly bureaucracy of college, a simple academic or financial aid issue can quickly snowball into a major problem.  Many times students feel helpless and don’t know who or where to turn. Simply asking for help or direction can make a huge difference.


Doc McStuffins Creator Tributes Black Woman Doctor by Renaming Character

Courtesy of Disney Junior.Com

Courtesy of Disney Junior.Com

I L-O-V-E Doc McStuffins! This will do so much for inspiring little girls to become doctors. Now, we have to have more active mentors make their dreams a reality.  My purpose in life is to keep the fire going by making sure minority girls have the confidence and the know-how to conquer those tough STEM introductory courses. Unfortunately, freshman year is where we lose many hopeful pre-med students. 

View the Announcement by Melissa Harris Perry

Raising College Grads: Home is where SMART starts! Part 2

Student With Diploma Shows Graduation

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles /

In Raising College Grads…Part 1, (Read Here) I discussed how many college success skills are developed or strengthen outside of the classroom during their k-12 years.  Skills like reading comprehension (not just reading),  writing, and critical thinking take time and consistency to develop. “Smartness” and college success just doesn’t happen.  It takes a lot of behind the scenes work.  I heard all the time growing up that I was smart, like it was this unattainable thing that everyone couldn’t reach.  Well, that’s not my philosophy.  Being “smart” is not something nature or genetics hands to anyone on a platter. It has to be nurtured consistently.

Below are some simple strategies parents can use to increase their child’s potential for academic success in K-12 and beyond.

  1. Subscribe to positive magazines to help encourage reading such as Jet, Ebony, Time, and National Geographic. Reading can give students broad knowledge that will help them, in general, learn easier. Reading expands the vocabulary and builds imagination needed to think critically. Students also become well-rounded when exposed to current events and cultural issues.
  2. Make TV viewing educational. Ask your children to write and read aloud a summary of what they have just watch. Check for details like characters’ names, descriptions, and events.  A critical level in higher order thinking is the ability to summarize details and pick out main ideas. This is also a top college study strategy. (This may take some incentive).
  3. Choose a word of the week that the family must spell, define and use in a daily conversation. Expanding your child’s vocabulary will make reading comprehension, writing and standardized testing easier.

Stay tuned for more strategies that you can use to increase your child’s potential for success!