Recent grads urge rural youth to try college

March 23, 2014 

College Advising Corps

Alex Lucas, a college adviser at Dalton L. McMichael High School in Mayodan, N.C., center left, works with, from left, juniors Sid Miller, Chloe Lester and Gage Dillon during an ACT Prep session after school Tuesday, March 11, 2014.

ETHAN HYMAN — ehyman@newsobserver.com Buy Photo

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Now here’s a great idea that brings good people and good institutions together. The College Advising Corps is a Chapel Hill-based nonprofit that places 375 advisers at high schools in 14 states, among them North Carolina. Formerly headquartered in Virginia, the Corps moved to Chapel Hill in part, said founder Nicole Hurd, because part of the university’s “DNA” was serving low-income students.

That’s high flattery. Also helping the Corps is the John M. Belk Endowment out of Charlotte, which has provided a $10 million grant. That will add another 60 advisers to the 31 currently in North Carolina. Advisers usually are young college graduates who make modest salaries but, if they stay in the Corps for two years, can have almost $12,000 in college loans forgiven.

The Corps recruits the young folks because it believes they can relate to students in rural areas, where the effort is focused, who may not have had college on their scopes. Most of the advisers are people of color, and more than half are the first in their families to attend college.

Although North Carolina seems, to those in its metropolitan areas, a more educated and sophisticated place than it once was, the fact is that there are large areas outside those cities where young people have not been to museums and have not been exposed to all sorts of cultural advantages. Many are from families where parents did not go to college and might not have that ambition for their children.

So someone such as Alex Lucas, a 24-year-old Corps member, can make a pretty big difference. She’s in Mayodan, in rural Rockingham County, where 70 percent of students are lower income and just one-third of them signed up for a four-year college last year.

Lucas helps students prepare for interviews for college scholarships by running them through mock interviews. She pushes parents to encourage their kids to aim for college. She helps with applications. And she talks to hundreds of students, trying to persuade them to see the benefits of college.

She wants them to see, she says, that college is “worth it to them.”

Colleges and universities join the advising corps in partnerships, coming up with funding and recruiting advisers. In North Carolina, the partners are not exactly small-time: Duke, Wake Forest, UNC-Chapel Hill and Davidson.

Here is something that has worked, an organization that started with a $1 million budget and now has a $20 million budget, a group that plans to turn 375 advisers into 1,000 advisers in five years. Ambition. The Corps has it and wants to infect young people with it.

It is comforting, rather, it’s inspiring, to see young people who retain their idealism and who carry with them a generosity of spirit that pushes them to help others. In an age when government leaders have difficulty setting goals and reaching compromise and acting for the public good even if it may not follow exactly their political beliefs, these young advisers are setting an example of selflessness. They simply want to help raise the horizons of those less fortunate. And they are doing it.

Thousands of kids are learning from them. But their work and their commitment have lessons for their elders as well.

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