By Mel Childs
Brannon Jones has a passion for education. After graduating from Albany State University in 2007, he took his first job at Adamson Middle School in Clayton County as a substitute technology teacher. This is where Brannon discovered that education is his calling.
He has since turned this calling into a business that helps high school youth start planning for college. Next Step Education Foundation, located in Atlanta, Georgia, was founded in November 2011 to help youth develop a college readiness mindset at an early age to tackle the challenges associated with attending college.
“I don’t want lack of finances, resources, or information to hinder a student from getting a college education. Our mission is to give students what they need to help them be prepared to make one of the biggest decisions of their life,” Jones says.
Jones discussed his organization.
Did you feel that you were prepared for college when you attended?
I actually feel that I was unprepared. My parents instilled in me that I was going to college, but we didn’t have the logistical information on what I needed to do to be successful in the process. By happenstance, my mother met an ASU alumnus who nominated me for a summer bridge program that offered college credits and a stipend to students who attended the summer after graduation. Opportunities like this aligned for me to become successful; however, that’s not always the case for students. One thing I always tell students is, ‘If you don’t do the things necessary to help your parents pay for college, you will attend a college your parents can afford.’
What made you switch gears from teaching to helping youth with college readiness?
I took a position in college recruitment after leaving K–12. While working in recruitment, I noticed how ill-prepared many students were. Many students didn’t have a proper support system during the transition to college. I began to expose my applicants and enrollees to opportunities and resources beyond what my institution had to offer, and this is when I realized that I was filling an informational void.
What is the biggest obstacle you have witnessed in the college readiness process?
Student access and awareness by far are the largest obstacles in the college readiness process. Students are coming from all walks of life, family backgrounds, and socio-economic statuses. Unfortunately, pertinent information and opportunities are not disseminated to all areas equally. In my opinion, there’s about a third of high school students who are going to college no matter what obstacles are in their way; there’s about a third of high school students that aren’t going to college no matter how many resources you provide for them; and then there’s a third that may or may not seek a higher education based on environmental factors including access and awareness. I focus on the latter group.
What types of ways does your organization help students with the process of preparing for college?
We truly focus on access and awareness for students. We want to prepare them for the high school to college transition, then directly connect them to all types of institutions of higher education. We do this through a few programmatic platforms:
Virtual College Experience Program – As long as students have a computer, tablet, or smartphone, they can log into our Student Center and watch short research-based videos, complete activities, and download helpful documents to assist them through their college readiness process.
Community Workshops – We have partnered with local agencies, student groups, civic organizations, and community organizers to conduct workshops covering a wide range of college preparation topics including college selection, admissions, financial aid, scholarships, test preparation, money mistakes, and decisions making for college-bound students.
Annual College, Career & Services Fair – Every fall, we host a large fair to expose students to well-known and lesser-known colleges, career professionals and local service providers. Our third Annual Fair in 2016 created 41 on-the-spot college acceptances and 1.7 million in scholarship offers.
College Readiness 101 Workbook – I have recently released my first published resource for students. The College Readiness 101 Workbook is a student research-based book that assists students in strategically choosing their college and major, understanding financial aid and other financing options, as well as provide tips, tools, and resources for them use on their journey. Additionally, the workbook includes a portfolio for students to compare their top five colleges. Through their research, they will be able to articulate the best college for them and the reasons why.
For anyone seeking more detailed information about our organization, I encourage them to visit our website at nextstepeducation.org. We are more than ready to help students get on an organized path in pursuit of higher education.