A recent Greater Texas Foundation grant will extend a partnership between Texas A&M and the National College Advising Corps to provide counselors at the two Bryan comprehensive high schools.

The $160,000 grant will extend the partnership for two years, putting a recent Texas A&M graduate on the Bryan High School and Rudder High School campuses.

The support is crucial, said Marcus Cooper, senior program director of College Advising Corps at Texas A&M said, noting the most recent grant is the third of its kind and represents just one way the foundation supports the Texas A&M College Advising Corps program, called AdviseTX in the state. In addition, the Greater Texas Foundation also supports the community programs the College Advising Corps does, including an application workshop at Bryan Collegiate High School on Aug. 6.

The AdviseTX “near peer” counselors assigned to the high schools are solely focused on helping high school students explore post-secondary opportunities.

“We want to help kids go wherever they want and find a program that fits them and the Greater Texas Foundation is a huge supporter of that,” Cooper said.

With a “near peer” model, he said, the advisers are able to tell the high school students about their own experiences because they recently have been through the same process. The narrower age gap also can help the advisers connect with the students.

The 2019-2020 school year will be the fifth year for the partnership, and Bryan High School lead counselor Justin Estes called it “one of the best things” to happen on the campus.

“There’s a lot of different responsibilities that go into being a school counselor,” Estes said. “Obviously making sure the kids graduate, but helping them figure out what they’re doing after as well.”

His favorite part, he said, always has been helping the students plan for life after high school graduation, but often there are other tasks that require the counselors’ attention as well.

“We get pulled in so many different directions that a lot of times, I think, some of us don’t get to devote the time and energy to that that we would like to,” he said of the students’ post-secondary life. “Everybody’s doing the best that we can, but once AdviseTX showed up, that was one full-time person that’s fully devoted to helping the kids, no matter what grade they’re in, figure out what they’re going to do after high school and how they get to that goal.”

The AdviseTX counselors are not just focused on juniors and seniors, but also work with freshmen and sophomores, Estes said, noting the college process is easier the earlier students start it.

“They’ve just been an amazing support in terms of post-secondary planning and have done amazing things in order to improve the college-going culture of the campus,” he said.

A lot of times, he said, students do not really think about college or what they want to do after high school until they reach their junior or senior year, but waiting until then to think about their GPA and school involvement can make the application process more difficult.

“But if we can get kids as ninth and tenth graders to start thinking ahead about ‘What am I interested in doing when I get out? What are the pathways to get to that point?’ The earlier that we can get the kids planning for those things, the smoother it’s going to be for them as they move through that.”

According to a press release, national data shows students who meet with College Advising Corps counselors are 18% more likely to take the ACT, 23% more likely to submit a FAFSA and 23% more likely to apply to college.

Many schools with College Advising Corps counselors have seen “a double-digit increase in college enrollment with a persistence rate of 74%, two percentage points higher than the national average,” the release said.

Though there sometimes is a focus on students who are underrepresented at two-year and four-year colleges and universities, Estes said, the AdviseTX counselors work with all students, and any student can get help from the person assigned to the Bryan or Rudder campus. That help can range from filling out an application and applying for scholarships to finding housing.

While the district counselors might have to turn their focus to registration or get pulled into meetings, Estes said, “that [College Advising Corps counselor] is there full time just to help kids out with those kind of things.”

“It’s fun,” Cooper said, “to watch these near peers get excited and look at this in their profession as opposed to their job, because there is a difference.”

Over the next two years, the AdviseTX counselors assigned to the two Bryan high school campuses are expected to serve more than 2,000 students, the press release said.

“Every AdviseTX counselor who has served in Bryan ISD has gone above and beyond, and their hard work has helped hundreds of students make solid plans for their postsecondary education,” Greater Texas Foundation President and CEO Sue McMillin said in a press release, “We are excited to continue to support such an important and impactful initiative.”

“Ensuring students have the opportunity to achieve success in high school and college is at the forefront of everything we do,” Bryan Superintendent Christie Whitbeck is quoted in the release. “We are developing students to be ‘life-ready,’ and our continued partnership with Greater Texas Foundation and AdviseTX is helping us accomplish that goal.”

Estes called it a blessing to have the extra support of the AdviseTX advisers to help students and families, no matter if the student is the first in the family to go to college or the fifth. The process of applying for college and then financial aid is not always easy for students and parents to navigate, he said.

“To have somebody that can sit down one-on-one with you and walk you through that, that makes all the difference,” Estes said.

For more information about AdviseTX, go to admissions.tamu.edu/AdviseTX.

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