Opening Doors to College

As a leader in higher education, some of North Carolina’s most valuable resources are its college students. Five years ago, Duke University started a chapter of the College Advising Corps, which offers an opportunity for young graduates to give back to local North Carolina communities using one of the skills they know best: how to get in to college.

The College Advising Corps aims to raise the rates of college enrollment among low income, first generation and minority high school students. The Duke College Advising Corps places near-peer advisers in 16 central North Carolina high schools where they teach students about the college admissions process, financial aid opportunities, test preparation and career opportunities. Within North Carolina, UNC, Davidson and NC State also host chapters of the national College Advising Corps, which is based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

The Duke College Advising Corps receives support from The Duke Endowment, the Belk Foundation, AmeriCorps and is a joint initiative with the Assistant Vice Provost of Civic Engagement. College Advising Corps recruits recent Duke graduates to fill the role of college adviser. Upon selection, they undergo a four-week training course to refresh their college access knowledge and to learn more about the high school landscape in North Carolina.

Near-peer advisers are better able to communicate with young adults and to share their more recent experiences in college. For example, many of the advisers attended Duke with the help of Pell grants and were first-generation college students themselves, like many of the students they advise. Given this recent and similar experience, advisers offer a window to possibilities high school students might otherwise not be able to see.

Impact on the High School Students

Early data suggests that College Advising Corps significantly increases the number of students open to pursuing a college education. After engagement with an adviser, students are more likely to say they are aware of college affordability opportunities, that they are more knowledgeable of the application process and have career goals that include a college education.

The Duke College Advising Corps serves 16 high schools across four Congressional districts serving a total of 14,815 high school students. Since its establishment at Bartlett Yancey High School in Yanceyville, exit data showed marked increases in the number of students who applied to at least one college (74%), visited a college (67%), or spoke with an adviser (84%).

The students at these high schools are ones who otherwise wouldn’t receive top college access coaching. They are roughly 35% African-American, 27% Hispanic/Latino, and 39% white with roughly 58% of them qualifying for free or reduced lunch.

Impact on the Advisers

The experience is also an educational for the advisers. In the one to two years that advisers work for College Advising Corps, they engage directly with students, teachers school administrators and parents. Advisers are more likely to view poverty and social mobility as a relationship between education policy, health policy, drug policy and the criminal justice system.

According to exit surveys, advisers are less likely to see a family’s income as a determining factor in college access. This change is likely due to advisers learning more about the myriad financial aid sources available.

College Advising Corps serves to fulfill Duke’s commitment to public service. Advisers reported having a better understanding of their communities and the structural barriers to social mobility. Advisers begin to view community involvement as “a diversity of ways in which individuals can contribute to their community, both through paid employment and through volunteering.”

A majority of advisers say their participation in College Advising Corps influenced them to pursue careers in public service and to be more involved in their own communities. They reported in their exit surveys being more interested in careers in education, nonprofit work, social enterprise and political advocacy than they were at the start of their service.

More than simply influencing career trajectories, College Advising Corps advisers are more likely to stay in North Carolina after the end of their service. A majority of advisers explain in their exit surveys how much they value the sense of community they have found in the region.


This post is part of our Duke in North Carolina Series showcasing Duke’s activities in and in service to local communities, environments, economies and people.

See more here.