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Colleges recruit economically disadvantaged high school students across New Hampshire

Representatives from 13 New Hampshire colleges and universities spent the past two weeks traveling the state with a message for high school students from rural and economically disadvantaged communities: There’s a place at our schools for you.

“A lot of our kids don’t have resources to go and do the college tour,” said Lisa Ransom, guidance director at Winnisquam Regional High School. “It’s a perfect opportunity to connect students and the very admissions representatives that are going to be making the decision on their admissions.”

Over a two-week period that ended Friday, representatives from the schools traveled to 32 high schools across the Lakes Region and northern New Hampshire, setting up tables where students could inquire about the admissions process, financial aid and the campus atmosphere at each school. The traveling college fair was organized by the New Hampshire College and University Council and Campus Compact in New Hampshire. Winnisquam Regional, Franklin, Belmont and Laconia high schools all participated.

“Rather than expecting the students to come to us, we thought it would be a great idea, collectively, to come visit them at their own institutions, on their own turf,” said Tom Horgan, president of the college and university council.

Participating colleges included the state’s community college system, Plymouth State University, the University of New Hampshire, New England College, Keene State College and a handful of others.

The goal of the fair, which started about five years ago, is to target students from rural areas that are underrepresented in the state’s college population. Beyond seniors who are getting ready to apply for college, many of the admissions representatives target underclassmen so they can start informing them about the process early and build strong relationships.

In just three years, the schools collectively have seen an increase in student applications, acceptances and enrollments from students in the North Country, according to information from the college and university council. From 2009 to 2011, for example, applications from students in the North Country to participating schools increased from 376 to 1,308. In that same time frame, the number of students admitted increased from 293 to 1,020 and students who chose to enroll rose from 89 to 353.

Horgan said the idea for the traveling fair came from the necessity to do more targeted recruitment of students from rural areas. New Hampshire is a highly educated state, but many of the people who hold post-secondary degrees are not originally from here or obtained their degrees out of state. Because of this, the colleges have started a more targeted push to attract students who may not have considered continuing their education after high school and who may be first-generation college students.

“It’s important for families to know that colleges are very interested in being open and accessible to them,” he said. “The admissions office is the gateway into that process.”

Ransom, the guidance director at Winnisquam, said the fair was a great resource because most of the students from the school who go to college will attend an in-state institution. About 30 to 40 percent of students at Winnisquam Regional will attend either NHTI or Lakes Region Community College, and an additional 30 percent will go to a four-year college, Ransom said.

When the admissions representatives come, teachers encourage their students to check out the information and talk to people, even if they’re not sure what their post-high school future holds. For younger students, the fair could introduce them to programs they didn’t even know existed.

“It’s an intro to, A, college is possible and B, ‘Look, there’s veterinary technology, I never thought about that before,’ ” Ransom said.

Yasin Alsaidi, associate vice president of admissions at New England College, said his school can be a great fit for students from more rural areas because it has a relatively small number of students. A student coming from a high school with 49 students, for example, might feel more comfortable among New England College’s 1,000 students than they would at a bigger college, he said.

Mark Desmarais, director of admissions at White Mountains Community College, said the fair was a great collaboration between New Hampshire’s community, public and private colleges to raise student aspirations in northern New Hampshire. At the fair, representatives from his school provide college catalogs and information about the schools’ offerings. They also take down contact information for the students so a representative can follow up with the students throughout high school, so it’s not a “panic mode situation” when students need to start applying for college, Desmarais said.

“I think it’s great that the college and university council sets this up so the two- and four-year colleges in New Hampshire are working together to promote our institutions and to encourage students that college is possible and there’s a right fit,” he said.

(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3309 or kronayne@cmonitor.com or on Twitter at @kronayne.)

The original version of this article misidentified the first name of Mark Desmarais.

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