Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Hope to Juvenile Offenders: The Ohio State University's CHEE Program Seeks to Inspire Wayward Youth to Seek Higher Education

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Hope to Juvenile Offenders: The Ohio State University's CHEE Program Seeks to Inspire Wayward Youth to Seek Higher Education

Article excerpt

A year ago, first lady Michelle Obama challenged college communities everywhere "to open up their campus to students who don't always see themselves attending college."

The Ohio State University (OSU) in Columbus took up that challenge in a bold way in December. It invited a group of young men from a nearby juvenile correctional facility to spend a day on campus. For the five young men, who ranged from 17 to 20 years old, the experience proved to be life changing.

Before their visit, OSU, to these young men, was an out-of-reach dream, a storied institution with a slew of national football championships and famous alums. Not a place that could welcome and possibly matriculate someone with a juvenile felony record.

But the officials at OSU's Center for Higher Education Enterprise (CHEE), which organized the visit, did just that. They warmly welcomed. They enthusiastically encouraged. They demonstrated that these young men--if they worked hard--could one day end up with a degree from OSU.

Trajectory change

That a day on a campus like OSU could potentially change the trajectory of a young person's life is exactly what the first lady's challenge seeks to accomplish.

"Education is the key to success for so many kids," Obama said in January 2014.

"And my goal specifically is to reach out directly to young people and encourage them to take charge of their futures and complete an education beyond high school."

She launched the White House's higher education initiative, Reach Higher, a few months later, in May 2014.

CHEE director Terrell Strayhorn says it constantly pushes "partners and peers to really believe that college should be accessible and open to all, anyone who wants it. That would even mean students who have been overlooked as college material."

Perhaps no students are more overlooked as college material than "high-needs" youth who have spent time in a juvenile detention center. When CHEE decided to take on the first lady's challenge, it sought a partner who works with youth most likely to be discounted. "That brought us into a meeting with juvenile youth services," Strayhorn says.

Once connected, staff from Ohio's Department of Youth Services (DYS) talked with CHEE staff about what is happening to juvenile youth, Strayhorn explains. "Because we're all about student success and education, we asked DYS, 'What do you know about the educational experiences of your youth?' They said, 'There's education going on in detention centers. A lot of our youth aspire to go to college; they don't know how to get there.'"

What CHEE knows, Strayhorn says, is "how to inspire people to go to college and how to build pathways to get there."

CHEE is an interdisciplinary research and policy center that promotes the important role higher education plays in global society, especially through "access, affordability, engagement and excellence." It was established just over a year ago and has a full-time staff of five.

Strayhorn and his colleagues organized a full day of activities for the young men from the Circleville Juvenile Correctional Facility, which is about a half hour south of Columbus. CHEE tailored the schedule to meet the group's unique needs. In addition to listening to a session on college funding, FAFSA, grants and scholarships, and the dos and don'ts of college applications, the young men ate lunch in a university dining hall, to give them a "real" college experience. …

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