By Kirsten Breckinridge
Youth in the United States who are not attending school, not employed, and haven’t graduated from high school will likely find themselves on a path to a life of road blocks and barriers to success and potentially end up on a dead end road with no viable options for supporting themselves and their families.
Building pathways to and through college, and into living-wage employment, is arguably one of today’s most pressing national issues. Nearly one-third of youth from low-income families fail to earn high school diplomas. Seventeen percent of 16-24 year olds in the United States, or 6.7 million young adults, are “Opportunity Youth” who are not attending school, not working, and have no credential beyond high school. Yet virtually all jobs that offer wages sufficient to support a family require at least some training beyond high school.
New Profit, a nonprofit social innovation organization and venture philanthropy fund, believes in the power and potential of social innovation to dramatically improve opportunities for children, families, and communities. New Profit, like the Social Innovation Fund (SIF), is convinced that effective solutions to our nation’s most pressing challenges exist, should be evaluated, and need to be scaled in order to improve the lives of more Americans.
With SIF support, New Profit’s Pathways Fund seeks to strengthen the bridge between education and workforce development to foster opportunity and access for low-income youth. The Pathways Fund invests in six of the nation’s most promising social innovations focused on college and career success, supporting their work in making real progress in the lives of youth and the communities in which they live. By capitalizing on the strengths of these organizations, providing strategic and technical assistance, and using strong evaluation practices, the Pathways Fund seeks to improve, scale, and evaluate education and employment outcomes for youth across the country.
The College Advising Corps (Advising Corps) works to increase the number of low-income, first-generation college, and underrepresented students entering and completing higher education. It is among the Pathways Fund’s six organizations that offer services and support for low-income youth transitioning from high school to and through post-secondary education.
Too many highly motivated, talented high school students in low-income communities end up without the skills necessary to go to college because they don’t have the guidance to complete the college application process. The Advising Corps is changing that, giving these students a shot at the American dream through access to college. Headquartered in Chapel Hill, NC, the Advising Corps places well-trained, recent college graduates as full-time college advisers in the nation’s underserved schools.
Advising Corps advisers provide the support that high school students need to navigate the complex processes of college admissions, securing financial aid, and enrolling in schools that serve them well. The Advising Corps has chosen to utilize these near-peer mentors because their closeness in both age and background gives them a marked advantage over an adult counselor in influencing student decisions about college. Indeed, 54% of advisers were themselves the first in their family to attend college, 63% were Pell-eligible, and 69% are people of color.
In addition to the students in underserved communities receiving valuable guidance, many of the Advising Corps alumni are also impacted by the program, evidenced by their choosing to pursue graduate degrees in education or work in college admissions and counseling. The Advising Corps believes that this ripple effect creates advocates who can continue to bridge the gap between low-income high schools and colleges.
Previous studies have suggested that the Advising Corps’ near-peer model is effective in growing the number of students attending post-secondary programs immediately following high school. In fact, studies to date show the program demonstrates an 8-12 percent increase in college matriculation rates in the schools that it serves. The Advising Corps’ SIF-funded evaluation design will continue to assess the following effects of the program over multiple locations and with varying populations:
- To what extent have Advising Corps advisers increased the likelihood that students attend any college once they complete high school?
- Have Advising Corps advisers increased the likelihood that students attend two- or four-year colleges relative to what they would have done in the absence of any counseling?
- Have Advising Corps advisers increased the likelihood that students are engaged in full-time study in college?
Having built strong partnerships with 23 universities in 14 states, the Advising Corps has demonstrated an ability to grow. The Advising Corps has served more than 500,000 beneficiaries in the seven years since it started operations. This year, the Advising Corps has 375 advisers in 423 high schools in 14 states. With 128,000 enrolled students at these schools, all standing to benefit from the college-going culture advisors create, the potential for impact is huge.
Through the five-year Pathways grant, the Advising Corps will provide services to local high schools enrolling over 200,000 students – putting them on the path to college success by placing additional advisers into existing programs at the University of Missouri, the University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill, the University of Illinois, and the University of California - Berkeley, and by launching two additional partnerships with New York University and the University of Southern California.
Transforming Lives and Strengthening Communities
While lack of guidance and support can serve as barriers to those seeking a pathway from high school to college, oftentimes, thousands of students in America also face additional hurdles, including language barriers. When Naima moved to the United States from Algeria, she spoke no English, but with hard work and persistence, she was able to exit the ESL program in her sophomore year. Beyond conquering learning English in less than two years, Naima was determined to fulfill her dream of becoming the first Algerian-American astronaut.
During her junior year, Naima worked with Amanda, an Advising Corps adviser, who successfully guided Naima in submitting an application to attend a NASA Space Camp, in addition to identifying colleges that aligned with her academic and social interests. In her capacity as an Advising Corps adviser, Amanda helped Naima access information and resources regarding college choices that neither she nor her parents knew existed. Naima is on a pathway to success due to her own ambitions and drive coupled with the guidance and support from Amanda. She has been accepted to college and is ready to embark on a path to achieve her goals. Across the country, the Advising Corps is helping thousands of students like Naima.