Usually a quiet space reserved for studying, the library of Orange County High recently became the grounds for a discussion of college accessibility and affordability.
On October 16, 2018, U.S. Representative David Price visited the school to participate in and learn from several roundtable discussions with students, parents, counselors and members of the Duke College Advising Corps as a part of North Carolina’s “Countdown to College” month. The campaign, which spans the entire month of October, aims to help high-school seniors with three major steps of enrolling for college: residency, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and college applications. These steps often present hurdles, such as application fees and complex paperwork that cause issues for students as they enroll. For first-generation college students, who are the first of their families to attend college, these steps can be particularly daunting.
“I think a lot of students have grown up hearing college is important or they’ve heard their teachers saying that, but it’s like they don’t know how to bridge that gap between their circumstances and actually making that a reality,” said Adria Kinney. Kinney served as Duke College Adviser at Knightdale High School during the 2016-17 school year.
The College Advising Corps (CAC) at Duke University works to increase the number of low-income, first-generation college and underrepresented high school students in rural North Carolina who enter and complete higher education. Duke currently places 16 college advisers in central North Carolina high schools and is one of 25 partner universities across the region that work with CAC. Each adviser is a recent college graduate and receives intensive training with a focus on college access, college admissions, financial aid, student services, diversity, community service, and professionalism before serving in a high school. This near-peer method of mentoring paired with their own recent experiences in the college system, helps advisers connect with students from all circumstances and backgrounds.
With more and more people moving to the Triangle every day, traditional college counselors can be overwhelmed with their caseloads and cannot always give seniors the individual guidance they may need to prepare for life after high school. It was because of circumstances like these that Lina Palancares, the current adviser at a North Durham High School, did not have the best experience with advising when she was in school.
“My graduating class in high school was around 800 students,” said Palancares. “It was more like trying to do schedule changes and making sure that transcripts were going to colleges, but there weren’t a lot of one-on-one conversations being had about college paths.”
The CAC adviser, placed as an additional staff member at partner schools, supplements the current team of counselors and, as such, is able to focus completely on post-secondary education advising. Whether students want to attend a four-year college, a community college or pursue another goal, the CAC advisers work with students one-on-one to find the best fit for each individual.
Typically, funding is the most significant obstacle students face when applying for college, but there are also many smaller challenges, such as not understanding the timeline of the application process, not knowing how to complete a FAFSA form or even just not knowing about all of the available options. Having CAC advisers in the schools helps the students anticipate and overcome hurdles of every size, every step of the way.
Many Duke CAC advisers were first-generation college students themselves, and they understand how it feels to have the odds stacked against them. They, and their CAC peers, are all very passionate about helping young adults take the next steps in their lives.
“I just gave her this piece of information: ‘You like to learn. College is a good place for people who like to learn. So let’s talk about that.,’” said Emily Hadley, a former college adviser at Hobbton High School in Sampson County. “I think that’s college advisers’ biggest role … and for a lot of students that makes all the difference in the world.”
To learn more about the Duke chapter of College Advising Corps visit the site here.
Story and photos by James Hardman-Cobb