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Meet Brannon Jones of Next Step Education Foundation in Clayton County and South Fulton

Today we’d like to introduce you to Brannon Jones.

Brannon, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
Early in my career, my background was in college admissions and recruitment. I started Next Step Education because I saw first hand how ill-prepared students were in applying to college. It prompted me to assist small student groups, church groups and the like. What I learned is that there was a true lack of access and information disseminated to the students we were serving. I realized, I too would have been in the same predicament if my mother hadn’t randomly met an alumnus of Albany State University that exposed me a summer bridge program that allowed me to take classes early and provided a stipend for participating students.

With that in mind, the major goal of Next Step Education became to expose students and parents to what they should know about strategically preparing for a college education.

We started small and became a resource for the students and parents. We grew into a program with multiple components and activities specifically dedicated to post-secondary preparation.

My experiences in multiple higher education departments and the work with Next Step Education also allowed me to publish the College Readiness 101 Workbook Series. This series guides students through what they should do each year (9th-12th) to prepare for a college education. School systems and organizations have already begun using it as their College & Career Readiness curriculum.

Has it been a smooth road?
It has definitely been a labor of love with continued growing pains. There have been some bumps in the road that have made us refocus and re-evaluate our programs.

Funding… Now this will be a challenge for all nonprofit organizations looking to do assist families in the community. We have made an impact in the community with the budget we have. We can always use more to do more.

The most frustrating aspect of the type of work we do is pushing students and parents to make a paradigm shift. Helping them to understand that preparing for life after high school is a priority as early as elementary school. The average student and parent aren’t thinking strategically about preparing for college, or finding value in resources available to them… until it is too late.

We get a lot of parents who contact us in a panic. Their second-semester senior is just now trying to do the things necessary to get into college (i.e., taking the SAT or ACT, applying to college, asking for letters of recommendation, applying for scholarships, etc.) At this time, it’s all but too late for top college choices and major funding opportunities. Our goal is to connect with students earlier to conduct college and career planning.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Next Step Education Foundation story. Tell us more about the organization.
Next Step Education is a 501c3 nonprofit organization dedicated to providing students and parents with innovative and practical services that will assist in post-secondary planning. We do this by hosting free activities that directly connect families to information or post-secondary options including: hosting community workshops and college readiness boot camps, planning and providing transportation to college fairs and tours, hosting college recruiter meet & greet sessions for smaller intimate sessions with recruiters, and hosting our Annual College, Career & Services Fair.

Our annual college fair has made a huge impact in the South Metro Atlanta area. In the last three years, colleges have offered high school seniors 109 “on the spot” acceptances and $5.2 million in “on the spot” scholarships. We are proud of the results and thank our college partners for their support. We are looking forward to continuing to provide this great opportunity to families.

We are unique from other companies because we are an event-based organization. Next Step Education does not have a mentorship component. There aren’t any Next Step Education students. We’re an organization that provides impactful opportunities for students, and their parents, to receive the resources they need. Schools, mentor groups, Greek and civic organizations all send their students to our events as a part of their college and career programming activities.

How do you think the industry will change over the next decade?
Higher education will change dramatically within 5-10 years. Changes to program offerings, length of programs, tuition costs and student experience will undoubtedly change how students select their post-secondary options. Our organization and organizations like ours will need to be prepared to keep up with the changes to guide students and parents correctly. One of the major changes that I have noticed is a number of students are becoming more savvy about planning what they want their college experience to be. The costs associated with traditional higher education is becoming less and less appealing. A great trend is that students are looking to minimize their educational cost while maximizing their career opportunities. More and more students are considering the community and technical college route. Cheaper classes, shorter programs with options of embedded certificates are luring students to programs that lead to high demand career opportunities. Even those who transfer to a 4-year institution are financially better off than their peers who decided to enter as freshmen.

Soon, a larger number of high school graduates will transition out of high school with college credit through dual enrollment programs. This will also cut the cost of educational expenses. The dual enrollment program has made a great impact for those who take advantage of the opportunity.

Student experience is leading decisions on how administrators are designing the college’s interaction with current and aspiring students. It’s pushing innovation in admissions and enrollment processes. They are redesigning academic programs with a strategic focus surrounding industry standards and projected changes. Students are voicing what they want to see on their campus in reference to social issues and civic engagement.

Next Step Education believes we can stay in the forefront and assist metro Atlanta students make well-informed decisions and find the post-secondary option that best fits them.


Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Diallo Washington, Tori Sanders

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