Recent college grads help high schoolers discover their post-secondary path

IU is the first higher education institution in Indiana to join College Advising Corps

"Guess what? I'm going to college!"

These words were music to the ears of Mary Lechner, an adviser with College Advising Corps. Lechner had just met with a student earlier in the day at Crawford County High School. The student, who has struggled throughout high school, was planning to graduate a semester early and just get a job.

"I asked her if she had ever thought about going to college. She told me she had, but it wasn't for her," said Lechner, an IU alum and now an adviser through Indiana University's support of the College Advising Corps. "She believed she wasn't smart enough and could never afford it. I said to her, 'You can go to college. If that's something you want, we can make it happen.'"

The pair looked at community colleges and programs together, and the student expressed an interest in social work because of the impact social workers have had on her life. The student left the conversation with not only tangible information on college programs and financial aid, but a sense of hope and excitement for her future. So much so that the student ran up to another teacher after the meeting and exclaimed, "Guess what? I'm going to college!"

This hope and excitement are exactly what the advisers in the College Advising Corps are working to inspire among their students. Indiana University Bloomington is the first Indiana higher education institution to join this nationwide program of more than 25 colleges and universities, which serve nearly 700 high schools across the U.S. Through the program, IU and community and campus partners support four advisers -- all recent IU graduates -- in six rural or underserved Indiana high schools. The community and campus partners include the IU Office of Enrollment Management, College Advising Corps, Regional Opportunity Initiatives, the IU Center for Rural Engagement, Ivy Tech Bloomington and Americorps.

"We are excited to launch this partnership that allows our expertly trained advisers to meet high school students where they are and educate them on their college options," said David B. Johnson, IU vice provost for enrollment management. "By placing near-peer college advisers in underserved Indiana high schools, we are helping students imagine their future and make a plan."

The goal is not to drive students to apply for IU or any other specific institution but rather to have a solid, post-secondary plan.

"The job landscape is continuously changing, and by 2020, 65 percent of jobs are going to require some form of post-secondary education," said IU alum Greg Fletcher, an adviser at Warren Central High School in Marion County through IU's support of College Advising Corps. "The ultimate success for me is getting all of my students into post-secondary education, whether that's a four-year institution or a two-year institution. I just want to make sure that my students are in the best position to be successful in life."

Research from College Advising Corps shows that students who work with an adviser through this program are 30 percent more likely to apply to college, 24 percent more likely to be accepted and 25 percent more likely to complete and submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

"Nationwide, there's a 464-to-1 student-to-counselor ratio, so it's always great to add another member to the team," said Brandon Johnson, principal at Crawford County High School. "The pressures of academics and testing coupled with character education that we're trying to bring into the school day can take away from our most important task: completing the steps necessary for students' chosen post-secondary path."

High school partners

Through College Advising Corps, IU has helped placed advisers in six Indiana high schools:

  • Warren Central High School, Marion County.
  • George Washington High School, Marion County.
  • Shoals Jr. and Sr. High School, Martin County.
  • Washington High School, Daviess County.
  • Paoli Jr. and Sr. High School, Orange County.
  • Crawford County High School, Crawford County.

This is where the advisers help fill in the gaps. Lechner, adviser for both Crawford County High School and Paoli Jr. and Senior High School, has taken on the tasks of presenting to students about interview skills, recommending students for scholarship programs and thinking of creative ways for students to sign up for the ACT without taking away from class time, in addition to meeting individually with students.

"A dedicated career counselor can support young people and families in making the best choices during their high school years," said Tina Peterson, CEO of Regional Opportunity Initiatives. "Advanced manufacturing, life sciences and defense are growing rapidly, and students equipped with both employability skills and relevant educational experiences will have employment opportunities in a variety of occupations. Our goal is for every student to graduate from high school with a personally relevant pathway to success, whether that be directly into the workforce or a post-secondary opportunity for credentials or degrees."

The advisers are already seeing these pathways to success come to fruition for their students.

"One of my students had a dream to attend a specific university," Fletcher said. "The idea of college can bring some anxiety, but this student has a fierce passion about her. With some help, we got her application in, test scores sent and FAFSA filled out. We found out just last week that she was accepted! I am so proud of her and can't wait to see what the future holds for her."