This academic year, the National Honor Society (NHS) and the National Junior Honor Society (NJHS) embarked on an aggressive goal: To support and increase college access and success for its members—and secondary students in general. The goal targets a White House initiative rooted in a profound statistic.

In a June 2014 Education Week article, First Lady Michelle Obama, an NHS alumna herself, wrote, “A generation ago, America had the highest percentage of college graduates in the world. But today, we’ve dropped all the way to 12th in terms of young adults.”

In response, she explained that President Obama developed his “‘North Star’ goal—that by the year 2020, we will once again have the highest college graduation rate in the world.” The First Lady’s subsequent Reach Higher initiative and #BetterMakeRoom campaign seek to inspire our nation’s young people to “get a better education, have a better career, imagine a better future, and live a better life.”

National Honor Societies' initiativesThe Director of the National Honor Societies, Jonathan Mathis, believed that NHS and NJHS—with their 1.6 million-member student base—have a unique opportunity to be both an influencer and a motivator in this space.

The goal was perhaps even more significant for middle level audiences. Based on the findings of an online survey administered by Kelton Global in early September 2015 on behalf of the National Honor Societies, nearly three-quarters (72 percent) of college admission officers recommend students prepare for college before or by ninth grade. However, more than half of middle level students (52 percent) say they haven’t started preparing. The survey polled 1,041 middle level and high school students and 107 college admission officers.

Since the National Honor Societies had long billed themselves as “far more than an honor roll,” Mathis seized this as a watershed moment for NHS and NJHS to make “college access and success” a guiding maxim. To that end, and under the directives of NASSP, the parent organization of NHS and NJHS, a suite of member-only college and career readiness resources has been rolling out continually since September 2015.

The programs and services launched by NHS and NJHS this year include:

  • College admission planning webinars. The first in November focused on the college application process. The latest aired last week and provided detailed insight into “Understanding Financial Aid.” The final webinar in this year’s series, “The ‘Right’ College Fit,” airs on March 23. All webinars are archived for future viewing.
  • A national awareness campaign called #HonorYourFutureNow has offered tools and resources to help students and families navigate the college search process. Affordability is addressed through a section on “Paying for College,” which features an infographic illustrating the options to make investing in higher education manageable. Actor/author/philanthropist Hill Harper, also an NHS alumnus, has been a national spokesperson for the campaign, sharing the college access and success message in interviews from coast-to-coast.
  • Scholarship support. The respected NHS Scholarship program has awarded more than $12 million to deserving senior members since 1946. This year, the program doubled its annual total and will award a record $500,000 amongst the winners. Ultimately, the award pool will increase to $2 million annually.
  • A head start on college savings. The NJHS Outstanding Achievement Award was introduced to recognize 500 exceptional NJHS members with a $500 award. It will be placed in a college savings account to be program-managed by Oppenheimer Funds (OFI Private Investments) as part of the New Mexico Education Trust Board’s 529 college savings plan — The Education Plan.
  • Scholarship search. To increase the efficiency of busy members in discovering options to finance their college pursuits, NHS debuted a scholarship search tool called NHS Scholar Dollars. This platform offers users filtered results aligned with the pillars of the National Honor Society.
  • Leadership development closer to home. State Summits, day-long events providing hands-on leadership skill-building and student empowerment activities, are set to begin. The first will take place in New Mexico in April, with additional State Summits planned for the 2016-17 academic year.

Mathis concludes, “We must continue to increase students’ capacities to dream by providing access to the expertise they need to explore their postsecondary options. But it goes beyond getting into college.

“We also need to ensure they are successful in completing their education in order to meet their professional goals. I believe that NHS and NJHS can be a significant and meaningful factor in preparing students with the information they need to both get into college and be satisfied and successful once they get there.”

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