‘Think College’ thinks again

New approach sparks success

  • Saturday, September 8, 2007 8:00am
  • Business

You can start a business with a good idea, but you have to adapt to succeed.

That’s the valuable lesson learned by Oak Harbor residents Cheryl Gordon and Lynne Vaght, who two years ago started “Think College,” a business with the goal of helping families prepare their kids for college.

In the 21st century, this is no small undertaking. With the world so competitive, kids have to start thinking of college sooner than ever.

“They start thinking of college in the 11th grade — or 12th!,” Vaght said with a laugh. “Or when they sign up for their SATs.” But by waiting that long, students are taking a big chance that their grade point averages won’t be up to snuff when it’s time to enter college, or that they won’t have the necessary background and classroom instruction to succeed in college.

Between them, Gordon and Vaght have prepared a number of their own children for college and they know how tough it is to convince a child to start thinking about his or her future in the eighth grade, but that’s when they say they should start.

Originally, they envisioned Think College as a seminar-based program, where they would invite parents to meetings to learn how to prepare their kids for college. But they soon discovered that parents with the energy to attend meetings “would have helped their kids anyway,” as Vaght describes it, and Gordon noted that “scheduling was a problem” for busy parents.

So they changed their approach. “We stepped back and reflected on it,” Gordon said, rather than plow ahead with the original idea.

Instead of seminars, they designed and wrote a series of seven handbooks to guide students toward college from the eighth through 12th grades. Beyond that, they put the information online. Individual parents can buy into the program, but the main marketing target of Think College is schools.

“It’s completely accessible by any computer,” Gordon said, noting that financially-strapped school districts often have “no money for physical materials.”

But districts can access the Think College material online, paying for universal access. “It’s accessible 24/7 for students, families and counselors,” Gordon said, describing the product as “the seven steps to post-secondary readiness, covering grades eight through 12.”

After having adjusted their business model, the Think College founders are experiencing success. The huge Federal Way School District signed on to their program beginning this year, offering Think College in its four high schools and eight middle schools, and 10 to 15 other school districts are thinking about signing on.

“This gives schools a tool to use, to equip adults for meaningful involvement,” in planning their children’s future, Gordon said. “It doesn’t replace any guidance program, it’s to engage parents.”

The business duo drew their recommendations from a number of different expert sources, all recognized in the education industry. The message they pound home to kids is simple: “It’s worth doing your best,” Gordon said.

Their message has been warmly received wherever the Think College team has traveled, and that’s all over the state and even to a national convention on educating military children in Kansas City.

“Wherever we go, we’re overwhelmingly affirmed that this is needed,” Vaght said.

With affordable handbooks that can serve individual families, and online access that can serve thousands of students, Vaght and Gordon believe Think College is finally on track to financial success. All it took was some fresh thinking to implement a good idea.