'Think about college. Get some knowledge. Prep it up!'

May 7, 1999

Trying to reach young students who may not consider themselves candidates for college, the southern American state of Georgia has commissioned a rap song. The message: college is hip.

"Think about college," the 30-second song says. "Get some knowledge!" It is a pop-culture way of dealing with a growing concern at a time when universities are toughening admission requirements and eliminating racial preferences - how to help demoralised young people, particularly minorities, get to college.

"The problems can be environmental, they can be academic, they can be financial, they can be social," said Arlethia Perry-Johnson, assistant vice-chancellor for the University of Georgia System. "The student may be very bright and performing well academically, but may have problems in the home environment or be in one of the communities that are poverty-level."

Like many other states, Georgia has raised admission standards, in its case strict requirements being phased in gradually until 2001, arousing fears that huge numbers of applicants who once slipped in would be rejected - and demands from representatives of low-income communities that something be done.

Georgia's answer, which has become a national model, is to offer special evening and Saturday programmes to students beginning at age 13 and encourage them to visit college campuses, enrol in academic enrichment programmes and seek counsellors to help address personal problems.

Mostly underwritten by donations from business and charities, the campaign has attracted more than 17,400 students to "Saturday academy" and other special teaching sessions; an estimated 30,000 youngsters have visited the college campuses. In an effort to lure more, the state bought air time on radio stations for its rap song.

Some teachers claim the campaign is ineffective. Many students have part-time jobs or have to take care of siblings and cannot attend after-school and weekend classes. Parents may not have pushed children towards college or do not know how to prepare for entrance examinations.

But Ms Perry-Johnson says the programme is effective in "using the language of raising aspirations and making students think college was possible for them".

The Georgia model is being adapted nationwide in an initiative called "Gear Up", although Congress has yet to fund it.

GEORGIA RAP

Hey! Listen, seventh- and eighth-graders, Think about college.

The rules in Georgia have changed.

So get some knowledge!

There's new college admission standards, and here's the deal: More math, science, English, foreign language.

Get real!

So ask your school counsellor about college prep.

Get started on your future, all right!

Now that's a bet!

Prep, prep it up!

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