Sign post.” Credit: [email protected]

May 23, 2017, New York Times

The College Advising Corps (CAC) helps low-income, first-generation college, and otherwise underrepresented high school students prepare for and get into college. Based in North Carolina, the national nonprofit and AmeriCorps grantee resembles Teach for America in its ambitions and win-win design. When the national student-to-adviser ratio is nearly 500:1, almost any school district can benefit from the presence of CAC advisors.

CAC recruits recent college graduates to work as full-time college advisors for two-year stints in high-need public high schools. Most of the CAC advisors are Latin@ or black and/or from low-income backgrounds, like the students they are advising. They are paid salaries of about $30,000 and, as AmeriCorps members, they can receive about $11,500 for undergraduate or future college loan forgiveness.

The organization works in partnership with 24 selective private colleges and flagship state universities, like Duke, Texas A&M, and the University of California, Berkeley, which recruit the advisers, train them through their admissions and financial aid offices and supervise them. The advisers are placed in schools through agreements with district administrators and principals.

The students the CAC advisors are helping typically do not have the awareness, confidence, or wherewithal to apply to the best institutions they are qualified to attend. Because these students do not usually understand the college financial aid process, they too often never consider elite schools that might offer them a full scholarship, such as Harvard. Too many students who are perfectly qualified to go to college never do.

At a White House College Opportunity Summit in 2014, then-First Lady Michelle Obama described the need for more college counseling.

So the fact is that right now, a small number of students are getting every advantage in the college admissions race, while millions of other students who are just as talented can’t even begin to compete. And as the college presidents here all know, the result is that colleges aren’t always getting all of the very best students. They’re getting the students who can best afford to succeed in this system. And we are leaving behind so many bright, hungry, promise-filled kids. We are depriving ourselves of so much human potential in this country—from the scientific discoveries these kids might make, to the businesses that they might build, to the leadership that they might one day show in our communities.

With initial support from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, Dr. Nicole Hurd, then the Dean and Director of the Center for Undergraduate Excellence at the University of Virginia, placed 14 recent UVA graduates in rural communities as college counselors.

In 2007, the Lumina Foundation for Education joined the Cooke Foundation in giving $12 million over four years to expand the pilot program nationally. Hurd established the initiative’s headquarters at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In 2013, CAC became an independent, nonprofit organization. Today, CAC deploys nearly 600 advisers in 15 states with 182 of them serving in rural areas. Since its founding, CAC has served over 848,000 high school students. CAC’s budget has grown to $34 million. Its revenue sources are balanced, from individual philanthropists such as Michael R. Bloomberg to foundation, university, and various levels of government funding sources committed to the cause.

CAC also counsels some students electronically. With the support of the College Board, and CollegePoint, an America Achieves and Bloomberg Philanthropies initiative, CAC “eAdvisers” support students through the use of video chat, email, telephone, and text messages.

Anemona Hartocollis writes for the New York Times that there are critics of CAC. “Others say that steering all the smart teenagers to a few elite colleges may be good for those particular students, but may worsen the social and economic stratification of American society—there will be no more small-town philosopher-car mechanics.” And then there are the discouraging statistics indicating the failure of many colleges to graduate their students, with some colleges offering only one academic advisor for every 1,200 students. But the need and opportunity outshine the naysayers.

In her address, Michelle Obama talked about Roberta Gutierrez’s sophomore year at La Cueva High School in Albuquerque. Gutierrez was encouraged by her school counselor and teachers to take the PSAT exam; she had to do without lunch for a week to afford the $15 fee. Roberta was named a National Merit Semi-Finalist with a PSAT score in the top one percent of the state. She received a full scholarship to the University of New Mexico, and was planning to get a PhD in psychology.

And just think about the ripple effect that those counselors will have in transforming just one student’s life. Think about the difference Roberta can make when she gets that PhD. Think of all the patients she might treat, all the groundbreaking research she might do. Think of the role model that she will be—she already is—inspiring countless young people just like her to pursue their dreams. There are millions of young people like Roberta all across this country, and they are counting on us to step up for them. They’re counting on us to give them opportunities worthy of their promise.

—James Schaffer