May 1 is the national date when graduating seniors must commit to a college or university. Advisers across the state and country are collaborating with counselors, teachers, and administrators to celebrate their students’ post-secondary decisions.
Decision Day is part of national movement to encourage more young people to pursue higher education, and is a big initiative in building a college-going culture within high schools. You can take part in the celebrations by using the hashtags #CACDecisionDay, #HappySigningDay, and #ReachHigher on social media. You can also tag the Carolina College Advising Corps in your posts–we are on Facebook (Carolina College Advising Corps), Twitter (@CarolinaCorps), and Instagram (@CarolinaCorps)!
You can also read this blog post from the Department of Education on why Decision Day celebrations matter, and the impact they have on our schools and communities. For more information about the First Lady’s #ReachHigher initiative, visit the Reach Higher website.
By Kaitlyn Russell, USA Today Collegiate Correspondent
Philip Gibert received no funds from his family to help with college costs and had no idea how to navigate the college application processes. This led to a difficult transition into university life, poor grades and a stressful college experience.
Asking for help changed his college pathway. Instead of an undergraduate career filled with challenges, it was filled with campus involvement.
First-generation students — those who are the first in their immediate family to attend college – make up nearly one third of undergraduates. Various reports and research concludes that those in this group enter college with minimal preparedness and are often less likely to engage with others in a university setting.
“The biggest challenge I faced being a first-generation college student was definitely doing everything on my own,” says Samantha Metz, a Penn State senior. “My parents had no idea what actually went into applying to colleges — making college visits, and taking the SAT.”
First-generation students are often underrepresented, according to reports from The , and only 54% whose parents obtained only high school diplomas go on to attend a university.
This gap in enrollment is where bridge programs come into play at universities nationwide. These programs – which are offered at UC Berkeley, the University of Michigan, and the University of Texas at Austin, among others — are designed specifically to advise first-year students. All share similar goal: to provide first-generation students a head start in college and ease the transition.
George Mason University’s Student Transition Empowerment Program (STEP) was created to “enhance the recruitment, engagement and retention of first-generation college students.”
The Summer Bridge program at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill began in 1980 and has since helped first year students “benefit from early exposure to the campus environment.” Students enroll in summer courses, engage in and out of the classroom and connect with university officials.
“Most often, students are the first in their families to attend college or they may have attended high schools that lacked a rigorous college prep curriculum that included Advanced Placement courses,” says Marcus Collins, director of Summer Bridge. “I believe, perhaps, the most important aspect of the summer bridge experience is the opportunity for students to create community.”
Collins says students felt the program gave them an opportunity to prepare for college and find support academically and socially.
Other programs, like the Carolina College Advising Corps “helps low-income, first-generation, and underrepresented students find their way to colleges that will serve them well.”
Yolanda Keith, the senior assistant director of admissions and program coordinator of Carolina College Advising Corps, says the organization knows that many prospective first-generation college students are thinking about higher education, but may not have sufficient information.
“We hire recent graduates of our university to help [high school] students navigate financial aid and the college application process,” Keith says.
Although the College Advising Corps is a national organization, the Carolina College Advising Corps (CCAC) works with more than 10,000 high school students in the state. Advisers of the program go through extensive training to better understand the challenges first-generation students may face.
The national organization works with high schools nationwide to introduce students to university settings and help them “envision themselves as a college student.” Through college bus tours, one-on-one meetings and financial advising, CCAC advisers help high school students find their “best fit” college.
“The goal is to help students match to institutions,” says Keith. “We try to expose students to colleges across the state and nation.”
For many students, supplemental help bridges are a rewarding experience.
“I believe that it’s important for universities to secure first-generation programing and assistance to help manage the lives of these students who aren’t like everyone else,” Gibert says.
Metz notes that Penn State has a transition program, the Learning Edge Academic Program (LEAP), that many of her friends have participated in. But, as a student who elected not to attend, she believes that those programs aren’t necessary for a first-generation student’s success.
LEAP is offered to first-year students who “want a smooth transition into life at a large campus.” Participating students take small classes together, have a mentor available to them and live in a common residence area.
But Metz thinks a universal guide on how to complete various general college-related tasks should be made readily available to any soon-to-be undergraduate, particularly first-generation students.
“I think it’s extremely beneficial for universities to provide step-by-step tutorials for all the major things that go in enrolling into a college,” Metz says.
Keith has received positive feedback about the CCAC program from those who have participated. She emphasizes the importance of collaborative efforts between students and universities.
“Through these bridge programs and first-year initiatives, we can help secure the futures of families who will be expecting their first person in their family to carry the legacy further with their education,” Gibert says.Kaitlyn Russell is a student at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington and a spring 2015 USA TODAY Collegiate Correspondent.
By Eric Johnson, UNC Office of Scholarships & Student Aid
For the most part, the young advisers of the Carolina College Advising Corps spend their days focused on how to get students to college. They guide North Carolina high schoolers in college searches, SAT signups, and applications for admission and financial aid.
That leaves precious little time for tackling an even more fundamental question: why go to college?
“A lot of the time, when I speak to students and I’m trying to help them plan what they want to do and find out what their interests are, I get blank stares,” said Alex Lucas ‘11, the Advising Corps representative at Dalton L. McMichael High School in Mayodan, North Carolina.
That gels with national research that shows many low-income and first-generation students don’t have a clear sense of how a college degree relates to personal goals or career aspirations.
“I just know that if I can connect them, start a budding interest in some area, I know they’ll push themselves that much harder to complete high school, to attend a community college, or go on to a four-year degree, or aspire to something they never imagined, like a graduate degree,” Lucas said.
And last month, she tackled that challenge in a big way. After nearly a year of planning, Lucas hosted a school-wide symposium on career and college options. The entire student body of McMichael High School, from freshmen to seniors, took part.
The idea was straightforward: give students the chance to learn about the working world directly from school alumni, local businesspeople, and civic leaders from Rockingham County.
“My starting point was finding out what my students were interested in,” Lucas said. “I surveyed the whole school and found the careers that had the highest level of interest, and then began recruiting my professionals.”
To pull off a school-wide event, Lucas had to recruit more than fifty people across a range of career fields, almost all with some connection to the school or the local community. Most traveled to Mayodan to meet with students in person; a few spoke and took questions through internet video chats.
Every student in school had the chance to sign up for multiple sessions, allowing students to match up with speakers who shared their interests.
In one room, a McMichael High alum who now works for Cary-based SAS talked about the perks of a software engineering career. Down the hall, the local sheriff explained why many law enforcement personnel are required to have a college degree. And a Mayodan photographer talked about all of the behind-the-scenes work — from marketing to accounting — required to run a studio.
“We wanted to get people the kids could relate to,” said school principal Duane Whitaker. “People who are in our community, invested in our community.”
The goal, Lucas stressed, was to make the future a little more tangible for students who have a hard time picturing life after high school.
“When you look at the titles of these professional people — like a broadcast journalist or a computer engineer — you think they’re going to be someone big and important that you could never talk to,” Lucas said. “But I want students to see that they’re just a person — a person who was once in high school, just like them. If they follow the educational path they need to follow to be successful, they can get there, too.”
As students hustled between career workshops at the end of the day, that message seemed to be resonating.
“This is awesome!” screamed 11th-grader Lexi Blackard, running up to Lucas during a break. “This is such a great opportunity for everyone. Thank you for caring!”
The Carolina College Advising Corps helps low-income, first-generation, and underrepresented students find their way to colleges that will serve them well. By providing well-trained, enthusiastic advisers who are close in circumstance to the students they serve, the program aims to increase college-going rates at partner high schools across North Carolina.
We recruit advisers who are recent graduates of partner colleges/universities. This allows them to more easily develop relationships with students and serve as both peers as well as role models.
Our advisers work in partnership with teachers, counselors and administrators, as an additional staff member whose focus is singularly on improving the school’s college-going culture and ensuring that students apply to and enroll in colleges where they will succeed.
Advisers focus on helping students to identify and apply to post-secondary programs that will best serve them both academically and socially, thus increasing the likelihood that these students will persist to earn their degrees.