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Looking for Guidance in 2013: Can the Georgia College Advising Corps Survive the Funds-strapped New Reality?

Betz Kerley

In 2009, the Institute of Higher Education, in partnership with the Watson-Brown Foundation and the National College Advising Corps, began an innovative program to recruit and train recent UGA graduates to work full-time as college advisers in selected high schools across Georgia. The Georgia Advising Corps (GCAC) was launched and quickly became a valuable asset to students needing help in understanding and planning next steps after high school. The advisors worked alongside professional high school guidance counselors with the goal of increasing college applications and attendance by helping first-generation, underrepresented, and low-income students enroll in postsecondary institutions that fit their academic profiles.

The Georgia College Advising Corps would not have been possible without the help of the Watson-Brown Foundation, Inc.—a nonprofit Georgia corporation based in Thomson, Georgia. “We like to practice quiet philanthropy,” comments Sarah Katherine McNeil, director of scholarships & alumni relations. When McNeil first began working for the foundation and needed to make counselors aware of available scholarships, she discovered that many of the less fortunate students did not know how to apply to college. “These kids had few resources,” explained McNeil. Guidance counselors have little time for college preparation when their duties also include students’ social, behavioral and personal problems. Add to that drug and alcohol prevention and domestic violence awareness and it’s no wonder that so many disadvantaged students are not able to meet their full potential.

McNeal learned about the National College Advising Corp and within six months worked out a joint commitment with the Watson-Brown Foundation and the Institute of Higher Education. As a result, the Georgia College Advising Corps was born.

“The University of Georgia is the flagship university. It needed to be here,” explains McNeil. The first two years of the program have already made an impact on the number of students applying to college. Advisors are able to identify students who have potential for succeeding in college. They arrange college tours for students who would otherwise not have an opportunity to walk around a campus. They are holding seminars on how to go about applying to colleges and how to receive financial aid.

The National College Advising Corps was founded in 2004. An evaluation of results after five years revealed that on average, schools served by the program see an 8–12 percentage point increase in college-going rates versus control schools in the area. The Experts agree that a postsecondary education can be a powerful tool in boosting income and economic mobility. On the high school level, students must increase their subject matter knowledge and Advising Corps was found to be effective in both urban and rural areas. Advising Corps partner high schools see an average increase of $1 million in additional scholarship dollars per school for their college-going students. Surveys also found that partner high schools showed an overall increase in the number of college visits per student, attendance at college fairs, FAFSA completion, SAT/ACT registration and overall school morale. Students have reported a greater awareness of higher education and what is required to attend college as a direct result of working with an advisor.

Unfortunately, the future is cloudy for the GCAC. Funding is needed in order for this important program to continue after 2013. The new programs are state-funded, mandated by boards of regents. Because the Georgia program was not started on the state level GCAC is by far the smallest in the nation, with four advisors working in four high schools. “The vision was to grow and be all over the state,” says McNeil.

Guidance counselor of Augusta, Georgia’s, Westside High School, Regina Thompson commented, “Hopefully the impact that the advisors have made in the schools will allow us one day to have a college advisor in every high school. They are greatly needed in the guidance departments.”

Experts agree that a postsecondary education can be a powerful tool in boosting income and economic mobility. On the high school level, students must increase their subject matter knowledge and improve study skills. Guidance counselors assisted by GCAC advisors can help students learn how to go about selecting a college and obtaining financial aid. “It would be a great opportunity for recent graduates to work as advisors and help give students a plan after high school,” adds McNeil. After all, what could be more important than making students who want to attend college—a priority?

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