Colleges have long relied on their students to serve as campus tour guides -- not only showing people around, but recruiting the next cohort of students. A new program at the University of Virginia adopts the same model: New graduates are being sent into low-income high schools across the state to work for a year helping talented students apply for college. The recent graduates explain to students why they should consider college -- and show them how to apply to the best possible college and how to seek aid. The effort is having almost immediate success and today the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation is announcing a $10 million grant to set up similar efforts at 10 other colleges and universities.
In its first year, College Guide,  as the program is called, placed new UVa graduates in 14 high schools -- all selected because they had low college-going rates and many disadvantaged students. Most of the high schools in the program had college-going rates of 30-45 percent. In the last academic year -- the first in which College Guide participants were placed in the schools -- those percentages increased by 15-20 percentage points. The University of Virginia saw a 10 percent increase in applicants from the high schools, the College of William & Mary saw a 22 percent increase, and other colleges saw 100 percent increases.
Nicole Hurd, director of the program, said that while Virginia created it, the goal isn't just to get more applicants to its own campus, but into higher ed as a whole. "This is a 'let's get kids going to college' program, not a 'let's get kids to our campus' program," she said.
The recent graduates are supported along the model of Teach for America or AmeriCorps. They receive $1,000 a month for housing, $1,000 a month as a stipend, and then $5,000 a year (for up to two years) to forgive student loans or to pay for graduate education. Most of the recent graduates are themselves from high schools without high college-going rates, so they know the communities to which they are returning. They typically work full time in the guidance office, which Herd said was important because so many of those offices don't have funds to support enough college preparatory activity.
The Cooke Foundation, which backed the Virginia effort, is now using $10 million to create the National College Advising Corps, which will be led by Herd. Ten colleges and universities will receive $1 million grants to set up programs that will involve 120 high schools. In addition, several of the programs will apply the same approach to community colleges, placing recent graduates in transfer centers to encourage two-year graduates to go on to a four-year degree. A major emphasis of the foundation has been encouraging top graduates of two-year colleges to seek admission to top four-year institutions.
Josh Wyner, the foundation's vice president of programs, said in an interview Tuesday that research has been finding that students from low-income high schools may go to college, but they don't necessarily end up in the colleges that are best suited for them, or realize that they could go to the top institutions in a state. "We want to encourage students to go to the best institutions and most challenging institutions for them," Wyner said.
Wyner stressed that the desire to bolster high schools guidance offices was not a reflection on the individuals who work there. The problem, he said, is that guidance counselors in these high schools have seen their numbers diminish while their responsibilities have grown, leaving relatively little time to prepare students for college. For an upper income student, "the expectation exists that you will go to college and someone will fill that gap." The foundation hopes that its recruits sent into high schools can fill that gap for low-income talent.
The other colleges that will be starting programs are: Brown University, Franklin & Marshall College (working with Dickinson College, Millersville University and Shippensburg University), Loyola College in Maryland, Pennsylvania State University, Tufts University, the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa, the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Missouri at Columbia, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (which will also be home of the national office) and the University of Utah.