College Guides Blaze Trails to Higher Education

September 04, 2007
Sept. 4, 2007 — Twenty-four University of Virginia graduates will work as College Guides this school year, helping illuminate the path to a college education for high school students who may not have considered it an option.

The College Guides Program, which debuted two years ago, has already opened doors for many.  After its first year in the program Holston High School in Damascus, which had traditionally sent about 50 percent of its graduates on to some form of higher education, saw that number rise to nearly 85 percent. Guides help students with college applications, financial aid forms and, in some cases, take students on field trips to college campuses. Last year, College Guides worked with 15,000 Virginia high school students.

The new guides are starting their yearlong jobs in 25 Virginia school districts and two community colleges, where they team with local guidance counselors to bring fresh perspectives about the college application process to students who might not otherwise pursue higher education.

Tracey Grimm is a returning guide working at Louisa County High School. There, the program is underwritten by a donation from the William A. Cooke Foundation, created by Louisa attorney interested in community service and promoting education. The class of 2006 from Louisa County saw an increase in the rate of its graduates attending colleges, in large part due to the College Guides, according to Keith Roots, the new director of U.Va.’s College Guides Program.

Grimm, who graduated from U.Va. in 2006 with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and American politics, is determined to stay in the education field.

“I wanted an opportunity to give back and have a local impact,” said Grimm. “The College Guide Program gave me the chance to enter a field I am passionate about and stay in the state I grew up in and love.”

Cori Koenig, a Charlottesville resident and religious studies major who graduated in May, said she felt lucky being able to attend college and wanted to help others.

“I see how many doors a college degree opens,” she said, adding that she knows how important a mentor’s guidance is toward reaching a goal.

The College Guide Program is partially funded by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation and administered through U.Va’s Office of the Vice President and Provost. The Cooke Foundation was so impressed with the program’s performance in its first year that it awarded $1 million apiece to 10 colleges and universities to create programs based upon U.Va.’s model.

“Hundreds of thousands of students across America from low-income backgrounds who have the academic wherewithal to go into postsecondary education never do,” Matthew J. Quinn, executive director of the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, said when the program was created. “College access programs can be a major part of the solution.”

U.Va.’s program also received $337,000 from Americorps State, which provides grants for direct services that address unmet community needs, including those in education.

Four of this year's 24 guides are returning from last year. The 20 new guides have been put through a six-week training course in financial aid, admissions, diversity issues and various forms of postsecondary education. They visited 21 colleges in the state, meeting admission directors and touring campus facilities.

“The College Guide Program has helped many students move onto paths they may not have taken otherwise,” said Roots. “We’re proud to serve as an additional resource to the high schools and community colleges we serve across the commonwealth.”

“The success of the program will be in the students coming to college who would not have ordinarily,” said Nicole F. Hurd, executive director of the National College Advising Corps and creator of U.Va.’s flagship program.

“Every high school student gets about 20 minutes of guidance counseling time in his or her senior year,” Hurd said. “We are trying to help the overworked guidance counselors in the local schools.”

Quinn said 79 percent of Virginians between the ages of 18 and 24 have high school diplomas, but only 53 percent attend college directly out of high school. He hopes the Guides program will help change these numbers.

College Guides receive a $10,000 service stipend, a $10,000 housing allowance and $5,000 toward either future education or to pay for existing educational debts.

For information, contact Keith Roots at (434) 924-7612 or