Education Week - January 14, 2015 - (Page 8)

Growth of Md. Advising Program Runs Into Familiar Controversy By Jamaal Abdul-Alim A debate over a plan to expand a fledgling college-advising program in Maryland highlights a critical fault line in the world of college access: whether to bank on alreadyhigh-achieving students to ensure program success or to focus on those with greater academic needs. Documents recently submitted to Maryland lawmakers show that under the plan to expand Achieving Collegiate Excellence and Success, or aces, from the Montgomery County district to more school systems statewide, only the top 10 percent of academic performers among the state's 47,000 low-income high school juniors and seniors-or 4,700 students-would get the services of an "academic coach" through aces. College-access advocates-including the director of the program- worry that such a narrow focus could shortchange the students who need help the most. Leaders in the college advising field say Maryland's dilemma is a common one. "There is certainly a case to be made that with tight budgets, we have to do what we can, and making sure that students who achieved academically are not left behind constitutes a first point of triage-a fair argument," said David Hawkins, the executive director for educational content and policy at the National Association for College Admission Counseling, in Arlington, Va. "But there are other students who can succeed in postsecondary education, and in these situations, they get little of this sort of help." White House Attention Maryland's proposed $5.3 million expansion plan-which helps groups of low-income and otherwise disadvantaged students chart their way toward college-is part of a commitment by the University System of Maryland to fulfill a pledge it made during a "call to action" that President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama issued at the White House's inaugural College Opportunity Summit last January. The plan-produced by the Maryland Department of Education, the Maryland Association of Community Colleges, and the University System of Maryland-is also a response to state legislators' call for a feasibility study on the expansion of aces. While not unprecedented, the planned expansion puts Maryland among a small but growing number of states looking to provide college advising beyond what students are likely to get, if at all, from their often-overburdened school counselors. Some observers, particularly college-access practitioners in Maryland, question why aces-which made its debut in fall 2013-is being expanded when it has not yet built a record of success. Joann A. Boughman, the senior vice chancellor for academic affairs at the University System of Maryland, concedes that aces had only "anecdotal evidence" of success when system officials offered it as a model during last year's White House summit. "The White House was asking what are some of the models we believe would be successful," Ms. Boughman said. Proposed Emphasis Questioned But the expansion plans show that officials of the state university system are banking on already-successful students to create a strong track record, whereas the program's original intent-according to its director, Karen K. Callender-was to serve students "who are not sure they can gain access" to college. Ms. Callender questioned the wisdom of serving the highest-performing students, saying they would likely find their way to college even without the help of aces. " That's... a tough policy choice for a program that is essentially saying to some kids: We can't help you because you're not good enough." ELIZABETH MORGAN National College Access Network "They're already slated for college, already prepared, because everyone supports the top 10 percent," she said. Ms. Callender said aces has enjoyed considerable success getting students enrolled in college who were less certain about whether they could go. "Many of the students will say: 'I didn't think I could go to college before aces. I didn't know where I could go. I didn't know what I could do,' " Ms. Callender said. "Those are the kids we want to work with." Ms. Boughman did not dispute the need to serve students beyond the top 10 percent. But she said the state education officials charged with expanding the aces program don't foresee being able to garner all the financial resources needed to do so. "Our focus was purely the fact that we know that there is no way we are going to take this program big enough and comprehensive enough to get to all the students who need and deserve this type of help," Ms. Boughman said. The issue is all the more critical given the $5.3 million state appropriation being sought to expand the aces program-a figure that breaks 8 | EDUCATION WEEK | January 14, 2015 | down to about $1,100 per student. "If you're going to spend $5.3 million a year to increase collegegoing in Maryland, is there another strategy that could serve more students?" said Elizabeth Morgan, the director of external relations for the National College Access Network, a Washington-based group that advocates for nonprofits working to expand college access. "That's, I think, a tough publicpolicy choice for a program that is essentially saying to some kids: We can't help you because you aren't good enough," Ms. Morgan said. One District's Version In its current form, the aces program provides a variety of services to high school students in the 154,000-student Montgomery County system who hail from low-income backgrounds, such as those from single-parent homes, immigrants, those in foster care, and those who are the first in their families to attend college or who are from groups that are historically underrepresented in college. The program-a collaboration of the Montgomery County school system; Montgomery College, a twoyear, public college; and the Universities at Shady Grove, a partnership campus for nine schools in the state university system-seeks to "create a seamless pathway from high school to college completion." Its $1 million funding primarily comes from Montgomery College, Ms. Callender said. The program relies on paid, fulltime "academic coaches" from Montgomery College who are placed at 10 high schools to provide a "case-management approach" that includes- among other services-help with filling out financial-aid forms and navigating the college-admissions process in general. It also features college-entrance-exam preparation and "summer bridge" programs to ease students' transition into college and reduce remedial-coursetaking. There are now a total of 1,300 aces students, according to a December 2014 White House report. The expansion plan calls for 38 aces coaches and 19 program assistants to serve the 4,700 students in the top 10 percent of Maryland's lowincome 11th and 12th graders. The intent is to keep the coach-to-student ratio at 1-to-125 and the program assistant-to-student ratio at 1-to-250. Elementary and secondary counselors in Maryland have an average caseload of 357 students, according to nacac, far beyond the American School Counselor Association's recommendation of 250 students. Efforts to obtain complete data from aces on its students' progress did not succeed, but the White House report notes that "98 percent of the [Montgomery County public school] seniors in aces applied to a two- or four-year college or university." Jamaal Abdul-Alim is a Washingtonbased freelance writer. 'Near Peers' Give Advice On College CONTINUED FROM PAGE 1 they are so close in age and circumstance to the students." In 2004, when Ms. Hurd was the dean of the Center for Undergraduate Excellence at the University of Virginia, in Charlottesville, she became aware of the large number of high school graduates in the state who did not go on to college. Thinking that young "near peers" could be a motivating voice in high schools, she secured about $600,000 in funding the next year to pilot the concept with 14 advisers. In 2007, the program expanded nationally, and in 2013, the College Advising Corps became an independent nonprofit. Now, it operates in 14 states, with 470 advisers in 483 high schools, and aims to be in 1,000 schools by 2020. The program is further expanding its reach through virtual advising, working with students via phone calls, texts, and email. The cac's $26 million budget comes from foundations and 23 university partners. 'Energetic Advisers' The advisers, who earn between $24,000 and $30,000 a year plus benefits, often are welcome additions at a time when professional counselors are stretched thin and a broader pool of students is being encouraged to pursue higher education. "We have so many irons in the fire that it's tough to focus on postsecondary planning," Cassandra Bolding, a school counselor who has an adviser helping her through the program at Therrell High School in Atlanta. Having energetic young advisers who remember the process because they just recently completed it themselves helps relieve the stress on the counseling staff, she said. Mandy Savitz-Romer, a senior lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Education who has written a book on effective college-advising models, said young advisers can inspire and connect with students. "Peers play a part in forming a college identity," she said. "As students figure out who they are, peers are mirrors." Roxana Cruz, 25, is a corps adviser at Tennyson High School in Hayward, Calif., who grew up with immigrant Mexican parents who never went to college. "I'm low-income. I didn't have anyone helping me family-wise navigate the system," said Ms. Cruz. She tells students that taking out $40,000 in loans to earn her sociology degree from the University of California, Berkeley, was an investment that paid off, and that the debt is nothing compared to the career flexibility and job opportunities that her education provides. A big part of her job is to explain the application process, be a cheerleader, and build a college-going culture at her school. "I make a point to tell them I believe in them and I am there for them no matter what," Ms. Cruz said. High school seniors from the class of 2013 who met with a corps adviser were 23 percent more likely to apply to college, 23 percent more likely to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, and 15 percent more likely to take collegeadmissions tests, according to an external evaluation survey of the program from researchers at Stanford University. Not to Supplant Unlike Teach For America, whose teachers are salaried staff members of the districts they serve, most corps advisers are placed in schools at no cost to the system. Because the advisers are intended to supplement counselors, the school must agree not to fire staff members or reconfigure its staffing when an adviser comes on board. Before starting, the new college graduates complete an intensive sixweek boot camp on the program's partner campuses to learn about college advising. Once on the job, they get periodic professional-development sessions. "Nobody wants a 22- or 23-year-old to say, 'I'm going to turn around your school,' " said Ms. Hurd. "I tell the advisers to leave their Superman and Superwoman capes behind. This is not about you. This is about holding hands with our school districts." One hope among school counseling educators is that advisingcorps experience will interest more students in joining the profession. Nearly half of incoming advisers surveyed by the organization indicated they were interested in a career in counseling high school students for college. At the end of the first year with the corps, advisers receive a $5,600 education award to use to pay off student loans or finance graduate school. Ms. Cruz from Hayward, Calif., is considering getting her master's degree in educational leadership or counseling. "This is really my passion," Ms. Cruz said. "Working for the College Advising Corps would give me the resources I need to continue in this field." Making Connections In Seward, Alaska, Kurt S. Simonsen, 25, works as a corps adviser at several high schools with distance and in-person advising, including the school he once attended in Alaska. "It's really easy to identify with the students that have the need," he said. "As opposed to a traditional counselor, they really listen to me." To get students who might not be thinking about college to consider it, the young advisers get creative with activities and games. At a corps training session last fall, advisers were encouraged to adapt games, such as Monopoly and Who Wants to be a Millionaire?, with questions related to the college search. "To give them 40 minutes of fun, it makes them happy and creates a dialogue for them to come to us when the time is right," said Molly Thompson, 23, an adviser at two central Pennsylvania high schools. The advisers' role is to help the

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - January 14, 2015

Education Week - January 14, 2015
Mandatory State Testing on Thin Ice
Feds Confront Doubts in Plan To Fix Tribal Schools
TFA-Like Corps Places Advisers In High Schools
DIGITAL DIRECTIONS: Pittsburgh Collaboration Seen as Model
News in Brief
Report Roundup
With Common Core, More States Sharing Test Questions
New Study Plan Set on Down Syndrome
Blogs of the Week
Growth of Md. Advising Program Runs Into Familiar Controversy
N.Y. Governor Aims to Flex Muscles On Education Policy
Head Start Partnerships to Provide New Resources, Standards for Day Care
State of the States
Blogs of the Week
FREDERICK M. HESS: The 2015 Edu-Scholar Rankings
How Does an Edu-Scholar Influence K-12 Policy?
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
WILLIAMSON M. EVERS: Exit, Voice, Loyalty—and the Common Core

Education Week - January 14, 2015