FROM “COLLEGE?” TO “COLLEGE!”
The Georgia College Advising Corps helps high school students further their education
GCAC 2016-2017 Partner High Schools
Benjamin Mays High School, BEST Academy High School, Cedar Shoals High School, Clarke Central High School, Coretta Scott King Young Women’s Leadership Academy High School, Drew Charter School, Grady High School, Maynard Jackson High School, Meadowcreek High School, North Atlanta High School, Rockdale County High School, Salem High School, Therrell High School, and Westside High School
IT’S THE END-OF-THE-YEAR MEETING for the Georgia College Advising Corps, a group of 17 young men and women who have spent the 2015-16 academic year working with high school students in six school districts in the state. Themselves recent college graduates—some of them first in their families to get a post-secondary education—they are gathered to share success stories.
As each adviser delivers a Powerpoint presentation they have put together, complete with photos of the students they have worked with throughout the past year, there is an occasional catch in the throat, even a few happy tears.
Some success stories are about persuading those who don’t see themselves as college material to take the SAT or ACT—with surprising results. Others are about assisting with financial aid forms and applications that led to scholarships to finance the college dream.
But all are tales of the positive outcomes that can occur when high school students get a boost of moral and practical support that they might otherwise be missing.
“GCAC meets a critical need,” says program director Yarbrah Peeples. “With school counselors facing crushing caseloads, our advisers offer one-on-one help to students who are less likely to have friends or family members who have navigated the complicated world of college admissions and financial aid. And because advisers are close in age and background to the students they serve, they can connect in ways that others often cannot.”
Launched in 2008, the Georgia College Advising Corps is a public service and outreach effort of the Institute of Higher Education that was initially made possible through a partnership with the Watson-Brown Foundation and the National College Advising Corps. Since then, financial support from other foundations, organizations and individual donors has allowed the program to expand from an initial four schools to 14.
Advisers are recruited to serve for two years and they go through an intensive training program before being assigned to their schools.
“We are very fortunate to have GCAC based in IHE,” says Peeples, who became involved with the program during her graduate studies at the institute. “We are able to attract recent college graduates who are dedicated and passionate and then give them an opportunity to hone their skills as they figure out their future graduate school or career plans.”
The end results are impressive. According to an evaluation led by a Stanford University researcher, high schools that partner with the College Advising Corps see a significant increase in college-going rates versus control schools in similar areas. Advising corps schools also see an average increase of $1 million in scholarship support for their college-going students.
Such results are celebrated at “Decision Day” ceremonies, where high school seniors proclaim their college choices with posters or t-shirts and other paraphernalia. Clarke Central High School in Athens began Decision Day a few years ago as part of the school’s effort to get more students into college. GCAC adviser Darnell Shelton served as the master of ceremonies at this year’s event and obligingly took selfies with the students who came by to thank him afterwards.
And then there is the pay-it-forward success story of Jessica Taylor. As a student at Thomson High School, she was assisted by Ashley Holmes from GCAC’s first corps of advisers (2009-11). She went on to graduate from Alabama A&M University and now is a GCAC adviser herself.