Advising Corps Housed at UT Expands, Aiming To Send More Texas Students to College

A program out of UT that has been compared to a Teach for America for college advisors is expanding, with great potential for Texas.

Last year, the program’s first in the state, 15 members of the Advise TX College Advising Corps served as college advisors for disadvantaged high school students in San Antonio, Houston, and the Rio Grande Valley.

This year, the state corps is expanding to 120 counselors, making it by far the biggest of the 14 programs that exist in different states. The College Advising Corps was launched in 2007 at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and has spread since. Here in Texas, the Advise TX College Advising Corps is housed within the Institute for Public School Initiatives at UT’s College of Education.

Owen O’Brien, BA ’10, was one of the 15 advisors who participated in the corps in Texas last year. She had plenty of challenges in changing the mindset about college at Houston’s Barbara Jordan High School students. Over and over, she heard them say, “Community college is the smartest thing to do.”

Two-year colleges can be valuable, of course, but O’Brien knew that for the inner-city kids she was advising, the successful rate of transferring to (and graduating from) a four-year institution was less than 10 percent.

With O’Brien’s support, a girl who dreams of being a lawyer got into Texas Southern University, and a boy whose family makes less than $10,000 got a scholarship toward studies in petroleum engineering. Other students got interviews with Harvard and Brown.

O’Brien’s successes are exactly the kind that the Advise TX College Advising Corps aims to replicate on a bigger scale. The program’s mission is to increase the number of racially diverse, low-income, and first-generation students earning college degrees. To accomplish this, it trains new grads like O’Brien specifically for placement in needy high schools.

Unlike Teach for America, which thrusts new grads into tough classrooms full-time, Advise TX members have more flexibility. They received six weeks of rigorous training this summer, culminating last week in a statewide gathering in Austin.

The program shares best practices nationally, and advisors collaborate on templates, documents, and workshops locally. The advisors also have excellent oversight: both a College Advising Corps staff member and a guidance counselor or principal supervise them.

“Teachers have to become masters of their curriculum. The things that our counselors have to master—like college admissions, scholarship applications, and financial aid—they are generally already experts on,” says Connie Freeman, the program’s deputy director. “They host events to celebrate students, conduct test prep, and meet with families. It’s more fluid than being in the classroom every day.”

Sixty-four of the 120 advisors this coming year graduated from UT, and hopes are high that its impact will grow. In North Carolina, one area being served by the College Advising Corps showed a 14 percentage-point increase in the number of students going to two- and four-year institutions, Freeman says.

“We don’t want anyone to be left behind, and we know that’s happening in Texas and in the U.S.,” she says. “It’s a huge goal, but we believe these advisors can have a great impact.”

Says O’Brien: “When I think about multiplying 15 of us to 120 advisors, I think we could begin to change the next generation of Texas—I really do. If 120 schools in Texas are getting this, that is thousands of students who will go to college, and that will change the course of the rest of their lives.”

Owen O’Brien advising a student in Houston’s Barbara Jordan High School. Photo by Michael O’Brien.


Tags: , ,


No comments

Be the first one to leave a comment.

Post a Comment