Perils And Promise: Advising Corps Helps Guide Rural Students Toward College

Feb 29, 2016

Austin Dixon is an Adviser with the Carolina College Advising Corps. He works with students in Vance County.
Credit Carolina College Advising Corps

Trying to find the best path to success can be tough for students who don’t have enough support at home or at school.  This has been found to be true in many rural school districts, across the state, including Vance County.

To help address the problem, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill established the first college advising corps in the state, to reach those hard-to-reach students.  We take a closer look at the advising corps in our series, Perils & Promise: Educating North Carolina’s Rural Students.

Young people are pretty much the same everywhere.  They have hopes and dreams just like the next kid–just like the students in Vance County.

“But when I’m in college I’m going to double major.  I am going to do gynecology and urology,” said Jillian Johnson, while she attended a Career Fair at Southern Vance High School.

“I want to be a firefighter," said Zuaily Lopez, a senior at Western Vance High School.  "I been told you that!" She motioned to a laughing friend.  "I do want to be a firefighter or a hair stylist.”

Then there are students like Noah Whittacre, a senior at Northern Vance High School, whose been putting together his game plan for a while.

“My plan is to stay here in Henderson for a year and work until I am old enough, when I turn 18, I can leave on a mission trip for my church, and after I get back I want to go to college and follow a career path," said Whittacre.

The game plans, hopes and dreams are not the problem.  It’s the execution of these dreams, and in many school districts there just isn’t enough good advice to go around. 

One of the main problems is rural populations are more likely to have more families living in poverty, more families still waiting for that first child to go to college and guidance counselors who are overwhelmed.

“Finding a school that is highly populated with low-income, or under-represented or first generation students is not that hard," said Yolanda Keith.

Yolanda Keith is the Program Director of the Carolina College Advising Corps, based at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  She says about a decade ago, two recent Carolina grads were sent to help advise students in four under-performing, low-wealth high schools.  Today, they have 45 advisors blanketing 64 North Carolina high schools in 25 counties, including Vance County.

“There are again a lot of first generation students there and students that kind of struggle with getting to college," said Keith.  "But they also kind of struggle with having a support system and helping them realize what college actually means or the way that it can impact their lives.”  

The advising corps concept is a national, nonprofit model.  The first time Carolina College Advising Corps members began working with students in Vance County was last school year, thanks to millions of dollars from the John M. Belk Endowment.  Belk Endowment money also recently helped kick-off advising corps at Duke University, Davidson College and N.C. State–all serving rural school districts.

Keith says they help with financial aid and other application deadlines, but they also inspire and organize field trips.

“Many of the students that we serve have never set foot on a college campus.  It’s either too far away physically or it’s too far away mentally, they can’t envision themselves on it," said Keith.

Caroline Oakley is a senior at Northern Vance High School.

“I only applied to University of North Carolina because I may go to Vance-Granville for two years and then transfer there to save money," said Oakley.

The Carolina College Advising Corps encourages students to apply to at least one post-secondary school – that includes Historically Black Colleges and Universities, trade schools, four-year and two-year colleges.

Tori Reavis is a senior at Western Vance High School, the district’s alternative school.

Yeah, I am graduating in June, going to Vance Granville for two years and get my Day Care degree and work at a Day Care," said Reavis.

The important thing is she has a plan–and a dream.

Carolina College Advising Corps numbers show rural schools partnering with an advising corps have up to an 11 percent higher college enrollment rate than those that don’t.