An efficient, relatively inexpensive-to-implement program, the Texas A&M chapter of Advise TX, under the aegis of the Office of Admissions, is one of the most effective programs developed to increase the number of low-income, first-generation and minority Texas high school students enrolling in and completing post-secondary education.
How can the impact of Texas A&M’s Advise TX College Advising Corps be measured? One way is to compare the percentage of underrepresented high school students now attending colleges in Texas to the percentage enrolled before the program went into effect. Another way is to ask current Texas A&M students who have benefited from the presence of a College Adviser in their high school.
Guadalupe Gil ’17, an accounting major who attended Grand Prairie High School, is a first-generation freshman whose high school had one adviser it shared with several schools. Guadalupe’s family had no experience with college, and she had little hope of getting a college education. Then Laura Keating, a near-peer College Adviser from Texas A&M came to her high school.
“It felt like we had an angel come into our school,” says Gil. “If not for her, I wouldn’t be here; she changed my life.”
“We are very fortunate to be a part of such an impactful program, helping so many eager and motivated high school students go to college,” states Lynn Barnes, director of recruitment. “Providing greater accessibility is not only part of Texas A&M’s land-grant mission, it’s also a high priority for Texas — a state with rapidly changing demographics — if it hopes to produce the educated workforce it so desperately needs. And, increasing the number of college-educated citizens to enter the global marketplace is a major national priority. This is Aggie leadership in action.”
Advise TX College Advisers are exceptional recent graduates recruited from three public universities (Texas A&M, the University of Texas and Texas State) and two private universities (Texas Christian and Trinity) to work with the National College Advising Corps to serve in 126 Texas high schools. Each partnering university recruits, selects, employs, trains and supervises the college advisers in selected partner high schools across the state.
According to Advise TX program managers, College Advisers can come from any field of study. They receive intensive training before serving in a high school, completing a six-week practical curriculum that focuses on college access, college admissions, financial aid, student services, diversity, community service and professionalism. Advisers live within their service areas, involving themselves in the communities they serve.
“There’s something intrinsic to Aggies and our culture of selfless service that makes our advisers really want to do this,” says Erika Scott, one of Texas A&M’s program managers. “What they need is a passion for working with disadvantaged and underrepresented high school students. There is very little financial reward, but many realize this is a meaningful contribution they can make at this time in their lives, so they put off grad school or their careers for two years of service. It’s a labor of love,” adds Scott.
Isiaih Price ’17 is majoring in sports management, but it was not that long ago that he didn’t expect to be in college at all.
“I was not making college a priority,” Price says. “I knew my mother was going to make me go, but I didn’t know how to go about it, so I just didn’t worry about it. Plus, they had to lay off our counselors in my senior year. Then (College Adviser) Miss (Latrale) Walker came to our school and her room was constantly crowded. She was always available to help me fill out forms and applications, to find out about how to get financial aid and scholarships and to keep encouraging me.
“She’s the reason I’m in college and the reason I got accepted to so many schools,” Price states. “Other kids in the neighborhood went nowhere; some are in prison. But Miss Walker made going to college seem cool.”
It isn’t that students attending under-resourced, underrepresented high schools don’t have college aspirations; most do. The problem is they often can’t figure out how to make it happen. There are generally more than 400 students per guidance counselor, who have to address the myriad issues of high school students in a very short time frame. When trained Advise TX College Advisers enter a high school, their expertise and focus is helping students figure out the way to get into the right college for them, no matter how many hours it takes working with each student.
Stanley Sorrell ’17, a kinesiology major, always knew he would go to college. He took AP classes. His teachers at Brackenridge High School told him he had the ability. What he needed most was financial aid.
“Miss (Myrthala) Molar just made it easier,” says Sorrell. “I didn’t know about all the forms or how to get financial aid, but she did. I got offers from a lot of colleges, but after visiting Texas A&M, I knew I wanted to come here. Luckily, they offered me the best financial aid package.”
Another Brackenridge student had a different challenge. Juan Luna ’17, a communications major, also wanted to attend college. As he says, “Getting there was always the question.”
Luna explains, “I really struggled in my freshman year. After that, no matter how hard I worked, I still couldn’t get into the top 10 percent. Miss Molar made sure I met all my financial aid and application deadlines but more importantly, she believed in me. She not only gave me hope, but she made going to college possible.”
Nohemi Chavez ’17, a geology major, attended Milby High School in Houston. She says she didn’t really know enough about college and everyone was always too busy to help. “I thought I’d probably find a job,” she says. But after College Adviser Erin Ciceri came to Milby, everything changed for Chavez.
“I basically lived in the College Room,” Chavez says. “Miss Ciceri was so helpful, not just with college but also emotionally; she was always there for me. And she showed us that college was actually something we could afford.”
Kareena Willis’17, a telecommunications major from Westbury High School, always believed she would succeed. “I was in the top 10 percent, so I was sure I’d go to college. I spent so much time in the College Room. Mr. ‘E’ (Michael Espericueta) helped me with the SATs, ACTs . . . just knowing how and when to take them. He also helped us understand college life. And then, sometimes, we just went there to be ourselves.”
The quantitative results for the Texas A&M Advising Corps are impressive. In the 2010-2011 academic year, the average percentage of seniors in 30 high schools that applied to college was 41.6 percent. The following year, when Advise TX College Advisers went into the same schools, the number of college applicants increased by 8.2 percent, and in 2013 it increased again, to 12.8 percent. That translates to approximately 1,000 more minority and disadvantaged students getting into college each year.
“Advise TX is a winner for everyone involved,” says Texas A&M President R. Bowen Loftin. “High school students learn that a college education is attainable; advisers demonstrate the power of education and service to others; and our state gains more young leaders.”
Freddie Carper ’16, a general studies major, knew he wanted to go to college when he was at Eisenhower High School, but he didn’t know how he could afford it. Carper credits College Adviser Gary Newman with helping him find a way. “Mr. Newman was very caring, and he knew all the answers. I loved his spirit and the way he was still so connected to his school. That’s what made me want to get into Texas A&M.”
And when asked what he’d say if the Advise TX program didn’t exist, Carper responded immediately:
“It would be like losing out on a future . . . and killing dreams some people don’t even know they have.”
About Advise TX and the National College Advising Corps
The Texas A&M chapter of Advise TX has 48 college advisers serving Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and the Rio Grande Valley. With grants administered through the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, Advise TX College Advising Corps is a partner program of the National College Advising Corps. Advising Corps programs work throughout the country to provide the advising and support that students need to navigate college admissions and financial aid. In the 2012-13 school year, the Advising Corps employs 335 advisers who serve more than 115,000 students at 389 high schools nationally. The Corps now has 20 programs in 16 states.