The Virginia College Advising Corps will serve more Virginia students this year.
The advising corps, which assists high school students who might not otherwise go to college, has expanded by a third – to 36 advisers working in 40 school districts, partnering with GEAR UP Virginia, a U.S. Department of Education program designed to increase the number of low-income students who are prepared to enter and succeed in postsecondary education.
GEAR UP, which stands for “Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs,” follows a cohort of students from seventh grade through their first year in postsecondary education.
“This was the perfect growth opportunity for VCAC,” said Joy Pugh, director of the Virginia College Advising Corps, which was started – and is still headquartered – at the University of Virginia . “GEAR UP does an excellent job providing college access resources for a particular grade cohort. In partnering, we are able to provide resources and advising for the entire high school, enhancing the college-going culture that GEAR UP already started.”
While GEAR UP Virginia is focused on specific students, the Virginia College Advising Corps takes a full-school approach, while still prioritizing low-income, underrepresented and first-generation students.
“The college advisers ensure that GEAR UP students receive college advising, including financial aid advising, SAT/ACT information, best fit and best match advising, and more,” said Erin McGrath, GEAR UP senior coordinator/program director for the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia. “The advisers will work with both GEAR UP and non-GEAR UP students.”
College advisers are recent college graduates who work full-time advising high school students. [Meet the 2018-19 College Advisers.] GEAR UP personnel can be school counselors, classroom teachers, principals, assistant principals, main office staff or anyone affiliated with the school division who has a passion for creating opportunities for students to prepare for postsecondary education.
“We even have a superintendent serving on one of our GEAR UP teams,” McGrath said. “They work during and after their contract hours to plan, coordinate and implement services that encourage and promote students’ readiness for postsecondary education.”
The college advisers and GEAR UP personnel will work together through team planning meetings and activities.
Hosting the two programs at a school is not a new idea. College advisers and GEAR UP personnel have already worked together at Charlottesville High School, George Washington High School in Danville and Washington & Lee High School in Westmoreland. The new schools hosting both programs will be: Randolph Henry High School in Charlotte County, Covington High School in Covington, Galileo High School in Danville, Dinwiddie High School in Dinwiddie, James Monroe High School in Fredericksburg, Harrisonburg High School in Harrisonburg, King & Queen Central High School in King & Queen, E.C. Glass High School in Lynchburg, Petersburg High School in Petersburg, Patrick Henry High School and William Fleming High School in Roanoke and Sussex Central High School in Sussex.
“Both organizations understand the importance of postsecondary attainment in today’s workforce, whether that be a two-year degree, four-year degree, certificate, or credential program,” Pugh said. “Both are producing these results for the commonwealth, and hope to increase the positive impact through this partnership.”
Pugh hopes to keep advisers in the 11 new districts after the two-year agreement between the Virginia College Advising Corps and GEAR UP Virginia expires.
“Both programs maintain their own structure and model,” Pugh said. “There is overlap in that they are serving in the same school, but not overlap in the program model.”
“After the 2019-20 academic year, it is our hope that school divisions will recognize VCAC’s contribution to their students’ success and sustain the investment and partnership,” McGrath said. “GEAR UP looks to implement best practices that are sustainable after grant dollars expire.”