Near-peer college advising gives the next generation a leg up

05/06/2014 6:23 PM

05/06/2014 6:23 PM

The public has both an economic and moral imperative to support programs like the one through which I serve at a low-income high school in Kansas City as a full-time, near-peer college adviser — the Missouri College Advising Corps (MCAC.)

What the 25 advisers in Kansas City and around Missouri do is simple: In our state’s neediest high schools we help guide Missouri seniors toward their best-fit college and career opportunities.

We collaborate with counselors, principals and teachers to help students and their families research, apply to and pay for college. We help students identify majors and colleges. We host college application blitzes and this year piloted Missouri College Application Week in conjunction with the Missouri Department of Higher Education.

We assist our schools in administering test prep classes and, at this point, could probably walk a student or parent through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) blindfolded. We take students on college field trips, help them research scholarships, reach out to middle school students and did I mention we do a lot of FAFSAs?

Perhaps most importantly, the average college-going rate increase in partner schools over the last five years is up 10 percent compared with less than a 1 percent increase in that same time across the state.

This work has never been more important. The federal government says that more than half of the 30 fastest-growing jobs require a degree. Only 36 percent of Missouri’s workforce holds a degree and only 58 percent of 2012 Missouri high school graduates matriculated to a college — that’s below the national average.

The advising corps works in schools serving populations that don’t get students to and through college often enough: Only 8 percent of children from the bottom economic quartile get college degrees. I believe this creates cyclical poverty. Social mobility in the United States limps behind its democratized peers. America hasn’t been this economically stratified since the pre-Depression era. Economic inequality is a problem acknowledged and being approached by both sides of the political aisle.

This hints at our moral obligation. We are not a country that leaves people behind. The Show-Me State is one in which success is to be earned, but right now it’s much more likely to find those born in the right zip codes. As technology demands a more educated workforce, our state and nation’s poor are significantly less likely to get the skills necessary to succeed in tomorrow’s economy.

It’s not that our state hasn’t noticed. New accreditation requirements significantly ramp up “Career and College Readiness” standards. What I can tell you from working in a high school, though, is that educators are being squeezed by mandates that raise standards without increasing support. Advisers play an important role in supporting schools’ push toward these state requirements and serve in partnership to provide equity and opportunity for the young people who represent our state’s future.

With persistently sluggish economic growth, it’s crucial the public is aware of innovative programs that successfully serve our schools and students. Both anecdotal and empirical evidence shows that college advisers are doing this. Investing in one’s own education produces a higher return on investment than any other seed, and the Missouri College Advising Corps is working with schools to increase the number of willing and able Missouri students who make that investment.

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