The college process is complicated and ridden with stress, uncertainty and confusion. Good advising can have immense impacts on college selection, recommendations, essay quality and even standardized test scores. At high schools on the fringe, where advisers are sometimes undertrained and often overburdened, navigating the college process becomes even more difficult, especially for first-generation applicants. Young, motivated, well-trained advisers can only have a positive impact. In some cases, they can change the trajectory of a student’s life. Duke’s participation in the CAC remains consistent with its mission to pursue knowledge in the service of society.
The CAC appears to be a strong organization that targets the students most in need of advising—those who demonstrate potential but are caught in environments where they are unable to access the resources that might propel them to college. The demand for additional advisers is significant. At some schools with which the CAC works, one college adviser is strapped with 450 advisees, leaving some students with only twenty minutes of advising time each academic year. The CAC aims to deliver high-quality advising, while also developing its advisers’ personal and professional skills.
Still, questions remain about the program’s ability to have a significant impact on the students it strives to help. The CAC advertises having 375 advisers that serve over 128,000 students, which means that they have a 341:1 student to adviser ratio. Duke plans to send between five and ten graduates to the program, but they will be sent to different high schools—meaning that each student adviser will only be able to make a small dent in alleviating the burden borne by the school’s college advisers. Adding one CAC adviser to a class of 450 students seems unlikely to significantly increase the amount of time high school students are able to spend planning for college. College advising is a personal process and it requires one-on-one meetings at relatively frequent intervals to ensure that both the adviser and advisee are on the same page.
It also remains to be seen whether and to which extent Duke students will want to participate in this program. Teach For America—which has a similar mission—is already quite popular among seniors looking for post-college opportunities. Given Duke students’ hypersensitivity about their postgraduate plans—especially with respect to salary—the College Advising Corps will have to work hard to demonstrate to prospective applicants why the job is fulfilling, worthwhile and different from other similar jobs.
As we have argued in previous editorials, universities can only do so much to improve access to college for underprivileged and underserved students. The lack of socioeconomic diversity at Duke and elsewhere has much more to do with the inadequate state of primary and secondary education than with college admissions policies, and we applaud Duke for committing itself to working with high schools in order to improve access to information and college advising.