College advising gets a $10 million boost in North Carolina

Alex Lucas, a college adviser at a high school in Mayodan, gets ready for an ACT Prep session in 2014.
Alex Lucas, a college adviser at a high school in Mayodan, gets ready for an ACT Prep session in 2014. file photo

A $10 million gift aims to improve college advising at North Carolina high schools, where recent college graduates help low-income students find their way to higher education.

The gift, announced Thursday by the Charlotte-based John M. Belk Endowment, will go to the College Advising Corps, a nonprofit that hires recent college graduates to work in high schools in North Carolina and 14 other states. The advisers focus exclusively on helping high school seniors navigate the confusing process of applying for college and financial aid. They work to supplement the work of high school guidance counselors who are often overburdened.

This past school year, 106 advisers worked in 127 schools in North Carolina. They were graduates of four colleges that have joined forces with the corps – Davidson College, Duke University, N.C. State University and UNC-Chapel Hill.

Nicole Hurd, founder and CEO of the Chapel Hill-based College Advising Corps, said the gift will help establish a “prosperity zone” in North Carolina, where the organization will focus to increase college attainment in that area. The idea is to reach every student there through advising and create partnerships with business and higher education.

“We believe every student in North Carolina deserves a post-secondary opportunity,” Hurd said Thursday, adding, “We have so many students who are ready for a four-year school who don’t think they can do it.”

Another push for the program will be launching a Parent Academy, a text messaging initiative, in partner high schools for better communication with parents about the college admissions process. “The number one thing we can do to move the needle is to engage parents,” Hurd said.

Students who met with a College Advising Corps adviser were 30 percent more likely to apply to college and were 27 percent more likely to fill out federal financial aid forms.

Additionally, the nonprofit also wants to study its outcomes, to gather data on what’s working in the program. Hurd said statewide adoption of the advising program is the ultimate goal.

Nationally, the College Advising Corps will place 617 advisers in 640 high schools next year. The nonprofit also provides virtual advising to some 10,000 students who don’t have access to an adviser in their schools.

The new gift is the second such donation from the endowment, which gave $10 million to the nonprofit in 2014. The endowment’s mission is to increase educational opportunities to meet North Carolina’s workforce needs. It recently announced its goal to help ensure that by 2025, 60 percent of North Carolinians will have a degree, certificate or training credential.

Jane Stancill: 919-829-4559, @janestancill