The formula of universities to open the door to vulnerable students

“I feel that I don’t have the same base as other classmates who come from better schools, but I think I have achieved it because there is a good atmosphere, you can ask for help if you need it”. The words are from Constanza Meza, a first-year medical student at the Catholic University and one of the graduates of the Vocational Preparation and Exploration Program offered by that institution as a response to the educational gap that exists in the country. Every year, she accepts about 1,200 students.

It is not a new situation, but it reaffirms each figure that appears. Data from the National Council of Education indicate that enrollment in higher education increased in Las Condes and Vitacura by 24.3% and 25.3%, respectively, in 2021. In Maipú and Puente Alto, on the other hand, they fell by 8.6% and 14, 6%.

And a survey carried out by Education 2020 and Ipsos in August 2020 concluded that while at the national level 76% of management teams reported that they could implement digital solutions for distance education, in the case of municipal establishments it dropped to 66%.

This reality has led several universities to implement projects that seek to improve the conditions of access of students from municipal or subsidized schools -including professional technicians- to higher education. These “headhunter programs” offer preparatory courses for high school students -who have stood out for their grades-, and train them for the admission test and also for their eventual admission to university, both in the academic and social dimensions.

“It is not enough to teach them math and language if they are not going to be students who know how to self-regulate, who can be disciplined with their studies and who can ask for help,” explains Fabián Duarte, professor at the Talent Development School (EDT) , from the Faculty of Economics and Business (FEN) of the University of Chile. Since 2013, this program seeks to develop skills that allow positive results for third and fourth year students of professional technical high schools.

Photo: Agency One

In the Talent Development branch they are taught, for example, in the first year how to organize time and study techniques; and, in the second year, vocational exploration is emphasized to end with advice on the different applications.

“They are very self-demanding students, they are very used to having very good results at school, without requiring them to make a greater effort, because they are talented. So, the level of demand that exists here means that they have to reorganize themselves,” says the psychologist of the psychological support unit of the FEN initiative, Patricia Barra, who comments that during the course they have to face several obstacles.

Per year, between 70 and 80 students enter the program, of which 95% finish their preparation and enter tertiary education, and of these, 80% go to traditional universities.

“Our goal is not for them to enter the FEN, sometimes our students want to study psychology, sociology, it depends on them and we support them in whatever it is,” Duarte mentions and adds about the economic costs of the program that the plan “it is expensive”, plus or minus $1,300,000 per student.

Given this, financing has been achieved through alliances with different entities willing to support the project, with Fundación Sura being the largest contributor.

Accompaniment: the distinctive role

“I was the first in my family to enter the U and fulfilling the dream was very nice. The first day I couldn’t believe I was there, sometimes it’s still hard for me to think how I’m sitting in medicine classes, ”explains Meza about her admission to UC, whose motto We support you since admission.

Cinthya Castañeda, head of communication and UC Admissions Promotion, explains that the students of the Vocational Preparation and Exploration Program receive free pre-university courses and a support plan from admission and financing to anxiety management. Since 2021, applications are national and online.

The next step is the Talent and Inclusion program, which consists of accompaniment for university students with courses in mathematics, language, chemistry, biology and, starting this year, physics and introduction to language.

In addition, newly admitted students are assigned a “peer tutor”, a student from the same institution who plays the role of “older brother” to guide and resolve doubts about university life.

And for those who are the first in their family to reach higher education, “they are given a more professional accompaniment, such as tutoring that monitors and guides the student’s path to complete this induction from school to university,” says Constanza. Rodríguez, Admissions Equidad y Vínculo UC professional.

A former student of the program is Constanza Levicán, who graduated from Liceo Carmela Carvajal and in 2012 began studying at the UC School of Engineering. Today she is the founder and general manager of the startup Suncast, which has earned her the position of Innovative Woman Corfo 2021.

“What the program did is a multidimensional effort, with income, monitoring and support during the career, which is super relevant,” he says about his time at Talent and Inclusion.

In the case of the FEN Talent Development School, the follow-up is constant for all students who completed the program, regardless of the U they enter. The Graduates Program is concerned, among other things, with offering reinforcement in specific subjects.

“Students who are in their third year and are doing extremely well and suddenly something serious happens to them and the probability of dropping out skyrockets. We do not accompany for two years, we accompany from two to five, six, seven years, as the case may be, “says Duarte.

Another way of contacting students entering other universities is through an annual survey by mail. This year, the survey – in which 68% of the total participated – revealed that of the generations from 2013 to 2016 (according to the year they entered the program), 41.75% graduated or had a degree. If the 2017, 2018 and 2019 generations are added, the average university dropout is equivalent to 5.7% of the total, the rest are studying.

20% of those consulted requested help from the program, which is divided into psychological support (50%), tutoring (23%), study techniques (19%) and advice for the different financings (8%).

the pioneer

The first propaedeutic, that is, preparation or teaching, was born in 2007. Led by the University of Santiago de Chile (Usach), the project was designed for students who “even being the best in their schools, have no chance to reach higher education, that they will not achieve the necessary scores to enter”, mentions Lorna Figueroa, director of the Usach-Unesco Propaedeutic Program.

Baptized as “New hope, better future” by the first-year students of the initiative, it also considers accompaniment as a key pillar.

In fact, a study carried out by the University of Leiden on this project revealed that, in their second year of university, students who enter through the propaedeutic manage to match their peers who entered through the admission test.

“When these students enter, they begin to grow, because they are acquiring the same knowledge as their peers, but at the same time they are acquiring that prior knowledge that they did not have in high school and that this other group did have,” explains Figueroa.

Since 2018, nearly 700 high school students have benefited from the Usach, which includes 50 full tuition scholarships per year for those students with full attendance at the propaedeutic and with better weighting calculated with the grades of the school and in the evaluations of the Program.

Taking 2008 as a reference, the year the first students entered, the graduates exceed 200 in the different civil and execution engineering, and many -Figueroa specifies- have taken postgraduate degrees.

The Metropolitan Technical University (Utem) is another of the 19 that has a plan of this type. It emerged in 2014 to offer a special admission route for students who belong to establishments with the School Vulnerability Index (IVE) and have outstanding academic performance. One of the modifications that was made to the curriculum was to include in the personal management workshop the dissemination of the institutional seals of the Utem (sustainability, social responsibility and technology), so that the students become familiar with the way of working the university, the different investigations in progress and teachers.

Since its debut, the program has added 768 students, of which about 60% entered university and, of this percentage, 86% obtained free education.

Pros and cons of connectivity
digital during the pandemic

Given the need to digitize the programs in the midst of the health crisis caused by Covid-19, a problem arose as to how to guarantee access to the contents of the workshops for students who did not have the necessary technological means. The solution was that the universities themselves provided the equipment.
“We give them food, we help them with transportation, computers, internet. It happened to us in the pandemic, that we did it online. All of our expenses are covered by our program,” says Duarte.
For the coordinator of the Utem Propaedeutic Program, Cristián Vial, “there is a super important affective component that is developed with attendance. There is greater recognition of the students and their difficulties when one can see them in person”.
That was offset by some of the virtues of the new modality. “This connectivity allowed us a more permanent contact with the students; In the past, the students came to the institution on Saturdays, but in the pandemic we had the possibility of holding videoconferences at any time of the week to support the process and provide a bit of continuity.”
In fact, in the case of Usach, the digital platform allowed them to incorporate a school on Easter Island.

solutions journalism

  • In this edition, DF includes a new article in the “Solutions Journalism” series.
  • This concept accounts for a trend that seeks to put in the foreground actions that are giving results in solving different social and economic problems.

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