Advising Corps Will Help Low-Income Texas Students with College Preparation

Texas high school students most in need of help planning for and enrolling in college soon will be getting assistance, thanks to funds from a public-private partnership between Bank of America, TG, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, the College for All Texans Foundation, National College Advising Corps (NCAC) and The University of Texas at Austin's Institute for Public School Initiatives (IPSI).

These grants will support creation of the Texas College Advising Corps (TCAC), a program modeled on the very successful National College Advising Corps, which is headquartered at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The Advising Corps will be aligned with state and national priorities to increase college enrollment and completion among low-income, first-generation and underrepresented students.

Bank of America, Texas Guaranteed and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board are contributing $821,703 this year to support 16 advisers. A $1.5 million grant from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board through the federal College Access Challenge Grant program will allow the program to expand next year and trigger a four-year award of around $5 million a year.

"With high school guidance counselor caseloads nearing 500 students per counselor nationwide," said Dr. Nicole Farmer Hurd, executive director of the National College Advising Corps, "there's a critical need for advisers to assist in high schools, where students lack the resources and information to successfully navigate the college admissions process.

"By placing recent university graduates in underserved Texas high schools, students who might forego college because the entire process is too daunting will get help completing college applications, filling out financial aid forms and selecting appropriate universities. Because the advisers are 'near-peer,' which just means they are close in age and circumstance to the students they serve, they can connect in ways that others often cannot."

TCAC advisers will be full-time, receive high-quality training and serve for one or two years.

According to Matt Orem, TCAC director, the average amount of time a Texas high school counselor gets to spend with a senior, advising for college, is about 20 minutes. The effects of this deficit in guidance for students are profound, with a 2004 study finding that half of the eight million undergraduates enrolled in universities didn't complete financial aid paperwork. More than 20 percent would have been eligible for the need-based federal Pell Grant.

"Department of Education data indicate that 99 percent of the fastest-growing jobs require education beyond high school, yet nearly a quarter of low-income students who score in the top quartile on standardized tests never go to college, and many of the remaining 75 percent never obtain a bachelor's degree," said Kenny Wilson, Central/South Texas market president, Bank of America. "A strong economy is only as good as a well educated workforce. Our support of the Texas College Advising Corps will ensure that students are matched with the right resources to enable them to go to college." 

TCAC is a cost-effective model, Orem said, that uses human capital from universities to supplement and support counselors. It's anticipated that the Advising Corps will be an attractive opportunity for the same kinds of graduates who elect to "give back" through programs like the Peace Corps and will be scalable to a statewide level.

 "The Texas College Advising Corps is a key part of The University of Texas at Austin's efforts to keep the doors of college open to all," says William Powers Jr., president of The University of Texas at Austin. "Just as Teach for America taps recent graduates for the classroom, the Advising Corps taps recent graduates for advising in our high schools. We expect these alumni will benefit long-term through their civic engagement and will be more active members of their communities."

Texas pilot sites that will receive advisers during this first year of the grant include 16 high-need high schools in Houston, the Rio Grande Valley and San Antonio. Sixteen advisers will be placed this year and the program has the ambitious goal of expanding to 120 advisers in 2011.

"Having supported the National College Advising Corps programs in other states and at the national level, TG celebrates this opportunity to help bring these services to Texas students," said Jacob Fraire, TG's assistant vice president for educational alliances. "We know that having reliable information and personal support can make the difference in navigating the road to higher education. This program will provide those key elements for thousands of students, improving the future for them, for Texas and the nation as a whole."

The Institute for Public School Initiatives, which was created in 2004, IPSI recently transferred from the University of Texas System to The University of Texas at Austin's College of Education.

IPSI focuses on improving student performance from preschool through high school via strategic partnerships with University of Texas System institutions, community colleges, school districts and state agencies. With $56 million in grant funds last year, IPSI introduced a number of programs that will prepare students to enter and move through the educational pipeline with the appropriate prerequisite skills and knowledge, regardless of race, socioeconomic status or school location. IPSI focuses on the most powerful influence on access to high-quality instruction such as educator quality, new program models, early college preparation and financial support for college.