Can the Teach for America Model Work Better in College Advising?

This nonprofit places recent graduates in high schools that need help guiding students through the college-admissions process.

** ADVANCE FOR RELEASE MONDAY, JUNE 7, AND THEREAFTER ** In this photo taken May 22, 2010, Brownie Sibrian, waits to enter a Latino graduation celebration, sponsored by the Latino Student Assn. and MEChA, about a week before graduation, on the campus of Whittier College in Whittier, Calif. AP Photo/Reed Saxon)
National Journal
Sophie Quinton
See more stories about...
Sophie Quinton
Sept. 25, 2013, 10:25 a.m.

This art­icle is part of a spe­cial weeklong series on in­nov­at­ive pro­grams and ideas that are im­prov­ing Amer­ic­an edu­ca­tion.

Most teen­agers in Erica Eld­er’s ho­met­own of Bas­sett, Va., don’t think they’re col­lege ma­ter­i­al. The county’s me­di­an house­hold in­come is $33,600 — about half the Vir­gin­ia av­er­age — and only 11.3 per­cent of res­id­ents have a bach­el­or’s de­gree or high­er.

Eld­er gradu­ated from the Uni­versity of Vir­gin­ia this year, be­com­ing the first in her fam­ily to ob­tain a B.A. She prob­ably wouldn’t have ap­plied to UVa, a highly ranked flag­ship school, without the en­cour­age­ment of her col­lege ad­viser in high school. Des­pite less-than-stel­lar SAT scores, “he nev­er told me I couldn’t go to col­lege,” Eld­er says. “He just gave me hope.” This fall, she’s head­ing back to Bas­sett High to serve, in her ment­or’s shoes, as a mem­ber of the Na­tion­al Col­lege Ad­vising Corps.

The col­lege-ap­plic­a­tions pro­cess can be over­whelm­ing for any high school stu­dent. But for low-in­come minor­ity stu­dents like Eld­er with no gradu­ates in their fam­il­ies to guide them, it is of­ten para­lyz­ing. Many such stu­dents choose two-year schools by de­fault, or they de­cide not to go to col­lege at all. The Na­tion­al Col­lege Ad­vising Corps gives un­der­served stu­dents bet­ter in­form­a­tion about their op­tions by pla­cing re­cent col­lege gradu­ates in high schools across the coun­try to serve as col­lege ad­visers.

“The people who really got pummeled by this re­ces­sion were people with a high school de­gree or less,” says Nicole Farm­er Hurd, founder and ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or of NCAC. High­er edu­ca­tion con­tin­ues to be a power­ful weapon against in­equal­ity: Low-in­come stu­dents who earn a four-year de­gree, re­ports the Pew Eco­nom­ic Mo­bil­ity Pro­ject, be­come nearly four times more likely to cata­pult in­to the top fifth of earners. Yet low-in­come stu­dents are 30 per­cent less likely to go dir­ectly to col­lege than their wealth­i­er peers, ac­cord­ing to the Na­tion­al Cen­ter for Edu­ca­tion Stat­ist­ics.

In the early 2000s, when Hurd was dean for un­der­gradu­ate re­search and fel­low­ships at UVa, she had an epi­phany. “We’re send­ing all these gradu­ates off to Los Angeles to teach or to Ecuador to do wa­ter puri­fic­a­tion,” she says. “If we can send them to L.A. and to Ecuador, surely we can keep them here in Vir­gin­ia to help kids to go to col­lege.” A $623,000 grant from the Jack Kent Cooke Found­a­tion in 2004 al­lowed Hurd to re­cruit and train 14 col­lege ad­visers, all UVa seni­ors about to gradu­ate, and to in­stall them in tar­geted high schools across the com­mon­wealth in the fall of 2005.

Today, NCAC works with 19 part­ner in­sti­tu­tions and fields 334 ad­visers in 14 states, reach­ing more than 116,000 teen­agers. Sixty per­cent of NCAC ad­visers are first-gen­er­a­tion gradu­ates, are minor­it­ies, or are from low-in­come fam­il­ies. They’re all young­er than 25. Ad­visers are re­cruited, trained, and de­ployed by part­ner in­sti­tu­tions; four years after they part­ner with NCAC, in­sti­tu­tions bear 60 per­cent of the cost of main­tain­ing their pro­gram. NCAC, a non­profit fun­ded by found­a­tions and grants, provides the re­main­ing 40 per­cent of ne­ces­sary fund­ing.

Dur­ing train­ing, ad­visers learn about the ad­mis­sions pro­cess from fin­an­cial-aid and ad­mis­sions of­ficers on their part­ner cam­pus who coach them through the steps. They also tour oth­er col­leges and uni­versit­ies in the area, al­low­ing ad­visers to make con­nec­tions with ad­mis­sions staff. As well as a sti­pend, ad­visers re­ceive a $5,500 grant each year to­ward pay­ing off their stu­dent loans or for gradu­ate school.

Ad­vising Corps mem­bers help stu­dents de­cide how they want to con­tin­ue their edu­ca­tion and come up with a list of col­leges to ap­ply to. They help seni­ors get waivers to cov­er stand­ard­ized test fees, write ad­mis­sions es­says, and meet dead­lines; they help par­ents fill out fin­an­cial-aid forms; and they hold classroom present­a­tions to get un­der­class­men think­ing about col­lege op­tions. One corps mem­ber in Durham, N.C., changed all the name­plates in school to in­clude the col­lege af­fil­i­ation of each teach­er and ad­min­is­trat­or to re­mind teen­agers that they were already part of a col­lege-go­ing com­munity.

Corps mem­bers live in the com­munit­ies they serve and work closely with school ad­min­is­trat­ors. Many ad­visers, like Eld­er, are nat­ives who know how the loc­al school sys­tem works. Hurd tells ad­visers that they’re not on a mis­sion to “save” a strug­gling school: They’re there to listen.

The one-on-one at­ten­tion from a near-peer res­on­ates with stu­dents. In the 2010-11 aca­dem­ic year, stu­dents who met with an NCAC ad­viser were 25 per­cent more likely to ap­ply to col­lege than their class­mates at that school and 34 per­cent more likely to be ac­cep­ted in­to a four-year in­sti­tu­tion, ac­cord­ing to an in­de­pend­ent eval­u­ation. First-gen­er­a­tion stu­dents at NCAC schools were 53 per­cent more likely to re­ceive a col­lege ac­cept­ance let­ter than stu­dents at com­par­able schools without a NCAC pres­ence.

Pre­lim­in­ary evid­ence sug­gests that work­ing with a NCAC ad­viser also helps un­der­served stu­dents fin­ish col­lege. An eval­u­ation in North Car­o­lina found that stu­dents served by NCAC ad­visers who ma­tric­u­lated in­to the UNC sys­tem had an 88 per­cent chance of con­tinu­ing in­to their sopho­more year — high­er than the UNC av­er­age of 82 per­cent. Many of the stu­dents NCAC works with are used to see­ing friends or fam­ily mem­bers drop out of col­lege. Ad­vising Corps mem­bers are liv­ing proof to them that it’s pos­sible to cross the fin­ish line.

Near-peer col­lege ad­visers can­not re­place guid­ance coun­selors, but they can sup­ple­ment them, says Yolan­da Keith, pro­gram co­ordin­at­or of the Car­o­lina Col­lege Ad­vising Corps, the NCAC pro­gram headquartered at UNC (Chapel Hill). “There’s a lot that’s put on a coun­selor’s plate,” she says, from sui­cide pre­ven­tion to help­ing stu­dents re­gister for classes. As a res­ult, coun­selors are of­ten spread too thin to truly fo­cus on in­di­vidu­al stu­dents through the col­lege de­cision and ap­plic­a­tion pro­cess. Na­tion­ally, the stu­dent-coun­selor ra­tio at pub­lic schools av­er­ages 470 to one.

NCAC isn’t about to change edu­ca­tion dis­par­it­ies overnight. But by giv­ing col­lege-ready stu­dents a hand up, it’s hop­ing to foster a col­lege-go­ing cul­ture where none ex­is­ted be­fore. When, dur­ing her train­ing, Eld­er went back to Bas­sett High to shad­ow the ad­viser cur­rently placed there, she in­stantly con­nec­ted with stu­dents. “They were really ex­cited, and really glad to listen to me,” she says. It was like they were think­ing: “If she can go off to col­lege, we can go off to col­lege, be­cause she was one of us.”

What We're Following See More »
STAFF PICKS
After Wikileaks Hack, DNC Staffers Stared Using ‘Snowden-Approved’ App
7 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

The Signal app is fast becoming the new favorite among those who are obsessed with the security and untraceabilty of their messaging. Just ask the Democratic National Committee. Or Edward Snowden. As Vanity Fair reports, before news ever broke that the DNC's servers had been hacked, word went out among the organization that the word "Trump" should never be used in their emails, lest it attract hackers' attention. Not long after, all Trump-related messages, especially disparaging ones, would need to be encrypted via the Snowden-approved Signal.

Source:
WARRING FACTIONS?
Freedom Caucus Members May Bolt the RSC
9 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

The Republican Study Committee may lose several members of the House Freedom Caucus next year, "potentially creating a split between two influential groups of House conservatives." The Freedom Caucus was founded at the inception of the current Congress by members who felt that the conservative RSC had gotten too cozy with leadership, "and its roughly 40 members have long clashed with the RSC over what tactics to use when pushing for conservative legislation." As many as 20 members may not join the RSC for the new Congress next year.

Source:
SOME THERAPIES ALREADY IN TRIALS
FDA Approves Emergency Zika Test
10 hours ago
THE LATEST

"The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Monday issued emergency authorization for a Zika diagnostics test from Swiss drugmaker Roche, skirting normal approval channels as the regulator moves to fight the disease's spread." Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reports that a new study in Nature identifies "about a dozen substances" that could "suppress the pathogen's replication." Some of them are already in clinical trials.

Source:
MONEY HAS BEEN PAID BACK
Medicare Advantage Plans Overcharged Government
11 hours ago
THE DETAILS

According to 37 newly released audits, "some private Medicare plans overcharged the government for the majority of elderly patients they treated." A number of Medicare Advantage plans overstated "the severity of medical conditions like diabetes and depression." The money has since been paid back, though some plans are appealing the federal audits.

Source:
PROCEDURES NOT FOLLOWED
Trump Not on Ballot in Minnesota
4 days ago
THE LATEST
×