Thanks to a $10-million grant from the John M. Belk Endowment, nine Davidson alumni have the opportunity to return to school this year. They aren't enrolling as students, though, and they aren't enrolling in college. They're being employed in rural high schools in the Piedmont region of the state as college advisers, tasked with increasing access to higher education for low income and first generation students.
The College Advising Corps (CAC) is a national program that trains recent college graduates to spend two years working closely with guidance counselors in under-resourced high schools. These young advisers will work to mentor, encourage and assist high school students in searching for the right college fit, and help them complete admissions and financial aid applications.
Mary Alice Katon, director of the CAC at Davidson, said the additional staff at these schools will encourage more students to attend college. "Guidance counselors already have large case loads, typically 375 students or more" she said. The American School Counselor Association recommends a counselor-to-student ratio of 250:1.
"Counselors do incredible work in a range of areas, and are often pulled in several different directions. All of these things cut into time they would like to spend with students helping them develop their college plans," she said. "The CAC advisers will fill that need."
In addition to advising individual students through the college search and application process, CAC advisers will collaborate with teachers and administrators to integrate aspirations of a college education throughout schools, so that more students and their parents will envision it as a possibility. The fact that the CAC advisers are "near peers"-just four to six years older than the students they counsel-helps establish credibility with students.
In its inaugural year, the Davidson CAC group includes Joel Boone '14, Pierce DeRico '14, Emma Huelskoetter '14, Hayley Lane '13, Amos McCandless '14, Cathy Marques '11, Amanda Miller '11, Vitaly Radsky '11 and Annie Wells '14.
The CAC is a national non-profit, originally launched in 2005 as an initiative at the University of Virginia called the College Guide program. It began with 14 recent college graduates from the University of Virginia who worked in communities where college-going rates were below the state average. Through information sessions, one-on-one advising, parent meetings and other initiatives, college applications from those schools did increase. Now based in Chapel Hill, the CAC has 23 university partners including Davidson, and more than 450 advisers. The CAC at Davidson is being housed in the college's Center for Civic Engagement.
The Belk Endowment grant is financing three years of new CAC programs with advisers at Davidson, Duke University and North Carolina State University. The three new college partners are placing approximately 30 of their recent graduates in rural high schools this school year. Program director Katon said plans call for expansion to 20 Davidson student advisers and 20 high schools for the 2015-16 school year.
There is no expectation that advisers join the program with in-depth knowledge of the college admission and financial aid processes. But because that knowledge is vital in helping high school students make college choices, the Davidson CAC counselors spent the full month of July learning about the organization, higher education in North Carolina, and the intricacies of college admission and financial aid.
Their training included visits to several colleges and universities in the state – Appalachian State, Catawba College, Johnson & Wales, Lees McRae, Queens University of Charlotte, UNC Charlotte, Wake Forest and Western Carolina.
Advisers also attended sessions and seminars on a wide variety of issues connected to higher education. They heard about legalities of advisers' relationships with students and student information, and were trained in CPR and first aid. Jennie Cox Bell, national director of programs and partnerships for CAC, led a session on college "match and fit."
Davidson's College Advisers attended many sessions facilitated by Davidson faculty and staff, including presentations by representatives from the offices of admission, financial aid, human resources, student life, multicultural affairs and civic engagement.
Katon emphasized that none of the Davidson advisers is in it for the salary. "Every one of them is here because he or she wants to be," she said. "They're very committed, smart and enthusiastic. They recognize this is a personal growth opportunity. History shows that many CAC advisers end up going into education or counseling, and this experience provides them an opportunity to explore those fields. It's also an exciting opportunity for me to work with young people, and I'm thoroughly enjoying that."
New adviser Annie Wells '14 said her own positive experience with high school guidance counselors led her to apply for the program. "I'm eager to be involved with the public school system again," she said.
Vitaly Radsky '11 returned to Eastern Europe after Davidson, and had been informally advising students there on how to gain admission to American colleges and universities. He recently returned to the USA and was excited to find that the CAC would provide him an opportunity to further his interests in the American education system.
Amanda Miller '11 views CAC as a way to help students like herself. She spent the past two years working with Teach for America in under-resourced schools, and was glad to find CAC as a way to continue working with students who may be qualified for college. She said, "I was a first generation student who got a disproportionate amount of attention from guidance counselors. It made all the difference for me, and I'd like now to make a difference for others."
The Belk Foundation grant reflects that philanthropic organization's mission to empower the 21st century workforce by creating pathways to prosperity for low income students by increasing their access to postsecondary opportunities.
"The John M. Belk Endowment grant will improve students' futures and strengthen the workforce in the communities we serve," said CAC founder Nicole Hurd. "Increased student access to four-year colleges, community colleges and other credentialing programs will lead to lifelong, family-sustaining jobs aligned with workforce needs."
That assertion has been backed up by a team from Stanford University that evaluated the difference CAC advisers can make, and found overwhelmingly positive outcomes. The Stanford study found that high school students who have met with an adviser are more likely to aspire to go to college, participate in college-prep activities, apply to college, be accepted to college and commit to attending.
For instance, students who met with CAC advisers were 107 percent more likely to take three or more ACT/SAT prep courses, 50 percent more likely to take three or more classes for college-level credit, and 198 percent more likely to attend financial aid workshops. They were also 42 percent more likely to apply for college admission, and 67 percent more likely to be accepted.
Davidson College President Carol Quillen shares insights from her higher education experience with the CAC blog.