Advising Corps raises college aspirations

Better advising can get more low-income kids to college, writes Sophie Quinton in The Atlantic. The National College Advising Corps (NCAC) sends recent college graduates to high schools to help needy students understand their postsecondary options, get waivers for admissions test fees, write essays and apply for financial aid.

The college-applications process can be overwhelming for any high school student. But for low-income minority students like (Erica) 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 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.

A $623,000 grant from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation in 2004 launched the advising corps. Now NCAC fields 334 advisers in 14 states, reaching 116,000 teenagers. Sixty percent of NCAC advisers are first-generation graduates, minorities or from low-income families. They receive a stipend and a $5,500 grant each year toward paying off their student loans or for graduate school.

Low-income, first-generation achievers often “undermatch” when they apply to college, writes Alexandria Walton Radford. College counseling is often impersonal, she writes.

. . .  valedictorians learned mainly about the in-state, public colleges that their high school’s graduates most frequently attended. Valedictorians struggled to get a one-on-one meeting with their often overstretched counselors, and even in these meetings counselors did not refine the college options they discussed to take into account the glittering achievements and tremendous potential of the top student before them. Counselors rarely suggested that valedictorians consider out-of-state or private colleges—and hardly ever mentioned elite universities.

Elite colleges may offer generous scholarships to low-income achievers, writes Radford. Yet, “families eliminate good college options because they don’t understand the extent to which need-based aid can reduce their actual costs.”


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