Guiding Students toward Success in College

Guiding Students toward Success in College

For many high school students, navigating the way to college isn’t easy. School counselors are stretched thin, with too many responsibilities and not enough time. The help students need – to plan ahead, explore choices and wade through the admissions process – is often hard to find.

In North Carolina, College Advising Corps is tackling that challenge. By placing recent college graduates as full-time advisers in high schools across the state, the Corps is helping high-need students focus on college access and success.

The national program partners with 24 colleges and universities in 14 states. A multi-year, $378,500 grant from The Duke Endowment is supporting the program’s expansion at Duke University.

“The aim is to increase opportunities and access for under-represented students and help them find the educational path that’s most appropriate for them,” says Girija Mahajan, program director at Duke. “It’s making sure that the next generation has the same opportunities we had.”

A Growing Effort

Across the country this year, College Advising Corps will serve more than 140,000 students in 531 high schools. The goal over the next five years is to help more than 300,000 students annually at more than 1,000 schools.

The program started in 2005 at the University of Virginia with a successful pilot. After funding came through to expand nationally, the headquarters moved to UNC Chapel Hill. College Advising Corps became an independent nonprofit in 2013.

Sam Hofacker, a member of Duke University's College Advising Corps, works at an urban high school in Durham.

Education experts say the need is great. With the national student-to-guidance counselor ratio at 467:1, the average student spends only 20 minutes per year talking to his or her counselor. Low-income and first-generation students in public high schools are especially underserved. According to the Corps, nearly 25 percent of low-income students who score in the top quartile on standardized tests never go to college, even when they’re well-qualified to continue their education beyond high school.

“A lot of times, people will just feel like, ‘College isn’t for me. I don’t know anything about it and I probably wouldn’t get in,’” says Imani Ifedi, a member of Duke University’s College Advising Corps. “My job is to be a bearer of information that helps them make informed decisions and feel confident about their post-graduation plans.”

Ifedi and other advisers help students shape goals, discover opportunities, and earn scholarships or secure financial aid. Students who meet with a College Advising Corps adviser are:

  • 20 percent more likely to take three or more SAT/ACT prep courses
  • 17 percent more likely to visit a college or university
  • 26 percent more likely to submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)
  • 30 percent more likely to apply to a college or university
  • 24 percent more likely to be accepted to a college or university

The advisers also stress the importance of higher education. In the United States, the unemployment rate for workers with at least a four-year degree is 2.8 percent, compared with a national average of 5.7 percent. But while half of all people from high-income families have a bachelor’s degree by age 25, just one in ten people from low-income families do, according to the Corps.

“Our advisers never tell a student what to do,” Mahajan says. “We emphasize college and university studies, but we don’t disparage employment or enlistment in the process. We want students to have access to the best information possible so they can make good decisions for themselves.”

‘What’s it Like?’

In North Carolina, College Advising Corps partners include Duke, UNC Chapel Hill, Davidson College and N.C. State University.

The Duke University program began in 2014. With support from the John M. Belk Foundation, Duke graduates serve 14 high schools in rural parts of the state; The Duke Endowment grant allowed the program to expand to two Durham city high schools.

“When the College Advising Corps came to us with the idea of starting a chapter here, we said yes and haven’t regretted it,” says Eric Mlyn, Duke University’s vice provost for civic engagement. “We have many civic engagement opportunities for students while they’re on campus. This is a way to give new graduates an opportunity after they graduate.” 

Advisers are hired for one year with an option to sign on for a second. Before starting, they receive training focused on college access, admissions, financial aid, student services and diversity.

The program works through a “near peer” model, which means that all advisers are new college graduates. They work full-time in a high school – not replacing counseling staff, but supplementing it. The goal is to create a “college-going culture” throughout the school.

“They can easily see themselves in us,” Ifedi says. “It helps them think of where they are now, and where they could be in four years.”

Sam Hofacker, another member of Duke University’s College Advising Corps, agrees. “Last week, in a session for ninth graders, I was answering questions about what’s it like to live in a dorm and what problems can come up with having a roommate and what dining plans are like,” he says. “Discussions like that really get them to think about college not just as an educational goal, but as a part of their life trajectory.”

Both Hofacker and Ifedi believe the program can be transformational – for students as well as advisers.

“In college, we learn about societal problems, and it seems there’s nothing we can do about them,” Hofacker says. “To be on the ground with people who are working hard to improve the lives of their students – to see how change can happen on an individual basis every day – for me, I’ve discovered that the world isn’t as bad off as we might think.” 

Ifedi says she’s proud to work for a program aimed at positive change. “The impact you can have could last a lifetime,” she says. “It’s rewarding to be a part of something this big.”

Find more information about College Advising Corps

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Susan L. McConnell
Director, Higher Education


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