Louisiana’s middle and high school students are being encouraged to build and keep tabs on their “high school portfolios” with Louisiana Connect, an interactive, state-run website that can help guide students and their parents through the process of entering college.
The process of building a student portfolio starts in Louisiana’s eighth-grade classrooms, where school counselors are required to work with students to create individualized five-year graduation plans.
Beginning last year, those graduation plans were entered into the Louisiana Connect system run by the Louisiana Office of Student Financial Assistance.
Executive Director Melanie Amrhein said as coursework is completed, the system keeps track and gives students a snapshot of where they stand on the road to college.
As students get closer to entering college, they can log in to Louisiana Connect to compare both in-state and out-of-state schools.
The system has information from every school listed in the Peterson’s Guide, a national higher education content provider.
“How many students are enrolled, is it a public or a private school, in a city or in the suburbs, how many students per class,” Amrhein said. “Students can compare all of that to narrow down by criteria. If you’re looking for a suburban school that offers a certain major, you can find it.”
Students can also take advantage of a scholarship database built-in to Louisiana Connect called “Student Recruit” where schools specify they are looking for students with certain standardized test scores and who are interested in specialized areas of study.
For instance, colleges can search for students who have been involved in extracurricular programs, or science, technology, engineering and math, Amrhein said.
If the student matches what the school is looking for, the college can send a message through Louisiana Connect.
“It begins a dialogue between a student and an institution,” Amrhein said.
The website also has a “Talent Connect” tool which matches student qualifications with different internships and employment opportunities.
“If a student thinks they’re interested in photography, they can find an opportunity to work in that field before they decide if that’s what they want to pursue,” Amrhein said.
But maybe the most-valuable component of Louisiana Connect, Amrhein said, is the TOPS tracking resource expected to come online in October.
The Taylor Opportunity Scholarship Program provides full-ride tuition scholarships to students who earn at least a 2.5 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale and who score at least a 20 out of a possible 36 on the ACT standardized test or SAT equivalent.
TOPS scholarships are awarded on a three-tier, escalating system — opportunity, performance and honors — where students have the opportunity to receive more money depending on meeting certain academic benchmarks above the baseline requirements.
In the future, the TOPS tracker should help college students that come after freshman Taylor Trahan, 18, who will enter LSU this month as a TOPS Honors recipient — the highest award level.
“Earning TOPS will definitely makes college costs sting a little less,” Trahan said during a freshman orientation session this week.
With a component that allows parents to create their own accounts and gives them the ability to track their childrens’ progress, Amrhein said Louisiana Connect will have the unintended consequence of getting parents more involved.
“Because parents want their kids to get that scholarship,” Amrhein said.
West Baton Rouge Parish School Superintendent David Corona said the website will give students a focus and direction they might not otherwise have.
“If a student says they want to become a physician, they can explore and get introduced to medical school and see what type of coursework they’re going to need and more importantly, what grades they need,” Corona said. “It’s not like students have to make the hard choices right away and stand firm, but at least this will give them a mark to shoot for.”