R

yane Boyd wanted to go to college, but she didn’t know how to choose the right one from the more than 4,000 higher-education institutions in the United States. Luckily Boyd’s St. Louis high school had established a partnership with the Missouri College Advising Corps (MCAC), a University of Missouri program that hires recent college graduates to advise low-income, first-generation and underrepresented Missouri high school students on applying to and paying for college.

Boyd’s adviser, 2007 Mizzou graduate Devin Cromwell, helped her arrange campus tours, prepare for the ACT and fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Boyd became the first person in her family to go to college, and in 2014, as a Mizzou graduate, became the first MCAC advisee to become an adviser.

Paying It Forward

Three advisers sitting at a table.

Missouri College Advising Corps members Chris Bowen, Bobbie Barnett and Juanita Ariza, all Mizzou grads, work on a small group project during training. Bowen works at Bayless High School in St. Louis. Barnett works at Jennings High School in St. Louis. Ariza works at Kansas City Northeast High School.

In fall 2014, Boyd joined 40 other advisers serving 33,991 students in 37 high schools across the state. Thanks to a $524,000 grant from AmeriCorps, the program recently has grown, expanding into southern Missouri; during the 2013-14 academic year, MCAC had only 25 advisers, all from Mizzou, in 26 schools.

“We’re serving communities of students who historically have not attended higher education at the same rate as others because some of them don’t know they can or they’ve been told they can’t or the minute somebody in their family sees the sticker price of college they say ‘Don’t even think about it,’” says Beth Tankersley-Bankhead, the program’s executive director. “This program and collaboration with the schools helps to send more students to college each year.”

Since MCAC was established at Mizzou in 2007, the number of students from partner schools going to college has increased by an average of 10 percent.

Face Time

Ellis Ingram

Ellis Ingram, senior associate dean for diversity and inclusion at the MU School of Medicine, speaks with members of the Missouri College Advising Corps, who were on MU’s campus for training.

“The beauty of the advisers being in the school full time, each and every day, is they are a consistent figure,” Tankersley-Bankhead says. “They become known. They become trusted by the students, and they’re there to help at any given time.”

The average school-counselor-to-student ratio in the U.S. is 457 to 1, and a study by the National Association for College Admission Counseling reported that the average high school student receives about 38 minutes of college advising per year. By comparison, one in five seniors at MCAC partner high schools reports meeting with an adviser more than once a week, and nearly 50 percent say their advisers had a lot of influence in their college decisions.

During Boyd’s first semester as an adviper at Carnahan High School in St. Louis, she organized workshops for students to learn about college applications, financial aid and campus life and held a one-on-one meeting with every senior — all 106 of them.

Building Confidence

In one meeting, Boyd worked with a student who was apprehensive about applying for a full-ride scholarship; the application required several essays, and she wasn’t optimistic about her chances of winning.

“I had to boost her confidence, but I also had to be real with her,” Boyd says. “I told her my adviser encouraged me to apply for scholarships, and I didn’t listen, but had I listened, I wouldn’t have so many loans now. I said, ‘Look at me as an example, and do better.’”

During the spring semester, Boyd will continue to meet with seniors, but she will also meet one on one with all of the juniors. One of Boyd’s goals is to change the college-going culture at the school by encouraging students to prepare for college before their senior years. She hopes some of them will be motivated by the “Acceptance Wall,” where she posts students’ college-acceptance letters. One student already has 15. Another has two full-ride offers.

“One senior told me she had never thought college was possible until I met with her. That really inspired me, to know that I was able to push her.” – Ryane Boyd, MCAC adviser

“I want 100 percent of my seniors to get some form of postsecondary education,” Boyd says.

System Successes

Through MCAC, 6,110 advisees have gone to college. In fall 2013, the College Transition and Persistence Program component of MCAC was launched to keep track of MCAC advisees studying at the four University of Missouri System campuses. A college-transition coach meets with the advisees and connects them to support services on campus.

“That’s to make sure they make it through the four years, with particular emphasis on completing that first year because we know that’s when the greatest number of students — particularly our low-income, first-generation college students — drop out of college,” Tankersley-Bankhead says.

After one year of the program, African-American advisees who enrolled at MU persisted at a higher rate than MU’s overall African-American population, and MCAC students at Missouri University of Science & Technology persisted at a higher rate than the average student body.

Stopping Summer Melt

During summer 2014, MCAC also opened the Kansas City Metro College Connections Center to help students with last-minute questions before starting school in the fall. As many as 40 percent of students who are college bound end up not attending college in the fall due to problems that can be solved, a phenomenon Tankersley-Bankhead calls the “summer melt.”

“It could be that they didn’t complete a paper, didn’t pay a deposit on time or don’t have a ride to campus, so they think all is lost,” she says. “In the summer, they don’t have the support around them. We can do something about those problems, so the center was there to help.”

For nine weeks, high-school guidance counselors, financial-aid experts and admissions representatives staffed the center at the Metropolitan Community College-Penn Valley campus. By the end of the summer, the MCAC had served 112 students from 43 high schools. The College Connections Center will be open again this summer.

As Tankersley-Bankhead looks to the future, she hopes the MCAC will grow to serve 58 high schools where 54,202 students are enrolled, expanding its footprint farther into southeast, central and southwest Missouri. Planning is underway to expand to 41 schools for the 2015–16 academic year.

To ensure advisers have varied experiences, recent graduates of all UM System campuses are now eligible to apply (in previous years only MU graduates were eligible). Applications, available on the MU HR website, are due March 6, 2015.