It’s a late December afternoon and Katie Foster’s small office at Lewisville High School is busy. This is crunch time for applying to colleges and students are fretting about writing essays, mailing transcripts and meeting deadlines.
Madyson, a senior, perches on a chair in front of Katie’s desk. “I don’t think I could have done this without Ms. Foster,” she says. “I’m the first person in my family to go to college and I’ve been coming in all the time asking questions. Applying is exciting, but it can be really confusing.”
Katie’s role at this rural South Carolina high school is to help students like Madyson explore educational options, tackle the application process and make informed decisions about what’s best for them. As a member of the Furman College Advising Corps, she works alongside guidance counselors as a full-time college adviser, making sure that Lewisville’s 350 students have what they need to plan for college access and success.
The national College Advising Corps works through partner universities at 670 high schools in 16 states. Funding from The Duke Endowment has supported the program at Davidson College and Duke University in North Carolina. In 2017, Furman University became the first South Carolina school to partner with the Corps, receiving anchor funding from the J. Marion Sims Foundation and the Endowment.
“I try to be the person who catches students before they fall through the cracks,” says Katie, a 2017 Furman graduate. “I think about my dad, who went to college only after his chemistry teacher encouraged him. That changed my family’s trajectory forever – and now it’s my turn to help students push their boundaries.”
Learn More about College Advising Corps
Across the country this year, the College Advising Corps is partnering with 26 universities to serve students in 670 high schools in 16 states. The goal is to enroll 1 million low-income, first-generation-college and underrepresented students in postsecondary education by 2025. Since launching in 2005, the Corps has helped more than 300,000 students enroll in college.
According to studies, students who meet with a College Advising Corps adviser are:
- 13 percent more likely to take the SAT or ACT
- 16 percent more likely to apply to three or more colleges
- 24 percent more likely to be accepted to a college or university
- 27 percent more likely to submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)
- 24 percent more likely to apply for a scholarship
In South Carolina, with funding from the J. Marion Sims Foundation, the Riley Institute at Furman University is adding a layer of evaluation by measuring the program’s impact on students, families and schools in two school districts. The evaluation is focused on several critical outcomes:
- An increase in student enrollment and persistence in college
- An improved college-going culture within the schools
- An increased awareness and literacy/ability of students and families to navigate the college preparation and application process.
- The evaluation also examines the impact of a “near-peer” advisor on the students, families, and school.
Taking Students Further
This year, the seven South Carolina advisers are working at high schools in rural Chester and Lancaster counties. They become members of the school community, collaborating with teachers and administrators to create a “college-going culture.” They guide parents through financial aid forms, and help students prepare for SAT or ACT testing.
The College Advising Corps works through a “near peer” model, which means that all advisers are new college graduates who remember what it’s like to face these daunting hurdles. Most were first-generation of low-income scholars, and they’re encouraged to draw upon personal experiences to lead students through the wide array of post-secondary education choices.
“Advisers aren’t meant to replace counseling staff, but to add another level of support,” says Tomeika Bennett, program director at Furman. “For people who are passionate about education, this is a terrific way to serve.”
Education experts say the need is great. With the national student-to-guidance counselor ratio at 482:1, many students spend less than 20 minutes a year talking to a 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.
“Am I happy that Katie’s on board? Yes, very much, because I see the impact that she has on our students,” says Sandra Jordan, Lewisville’s guidance director and sole counselor since 2000. “I see this as a gift that can take our students further.”
Next door in Katie’s office, 18-year-old Francisco has taken a seat under the colorful college pennants that decorate the walls. He dreams of studying film and media at a university and has relied on Katie to navigate the application process with him. His parents were unable to attend college, he says, so it would have been difficult to go to them with questions. Katie’s open-door policy helped him stay on top of looming due dates and deadlines.
“With Ms. Foster, all you have to do is ask,” he says. “And sometimes, even if you don’t know the right question, she’s still able to help.”
Francisco wrote his application essays about his parents and their struggles to provide opportunities for their children.
“I’m dreaming big,” he says, “so I can repay them for all they’ve done for me.”
Susan L. McConnell
Director, Higher Education