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Combating the Loss of 4 Million College Degrees

March 21, 2007 — The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation today awarded a $1 million grant to the University of Utah as part of a $10 million nationwide initiative aimed at significantly increasing college enrollment and graduation among first-generation high school students.

Following in the tradition of the AmeriCorps and Teach for America programs, the College Advising Corps initiative will recruit and train University of Utah seniors to work full time as advisers for one to two years following graduation.

Over the next four years, the university will develop college-advising programs at 14 target high schools around Utah. Advisers will provide one-on-one counseling and distribute information to all students about test preparation, admission, and financial aid. The program will provide college-advising services to 4,400 high school students over four years. The University of Utah program is based on a successful model devised by the University of Virginia and funded by the foundation.

“We are fortunate to be able to participate in this national initiative, which is helping students to understand the high quality education that is available to them,” said University of Utah Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs David W. Pershing. “This program will provide young people with the information and support they need to succeed in higher education, which is the best way to ensure a bright future for all Utahns.”

The goal of the program is to combat staggering rates of college-qualified, first-generation high school graduates who fail to earn bachelor’s degrees by providing college admission and financial aid guidance to underrepresented students. The U.S. Department of Education estimates that 4 million potential college degree recipients have been “lost” during the past two decades. As the foundation”s research reveals, among these students are many of America’s top-performing, underserved students.

“We are squandering a huge national resource when millions of America”s best high school graduates never get to college, or fail to advance beyond a two-year community college program,” said foundation Executive Director Mathew J. Quinn.

Lack of information about admissions and financial aid is a significant barrier to college for first-generation students, who are much less likely than their counterparts in wealthy communities to have access to ACT/SAT test preparation, college application guidance and information about financial aid. On average there is only one high school counselor for every 488 American public high school students.

“The Utah College Advising Corps is one of two premier initiatives, along with Adelante Club U Summer Camps, within the Office of Academic Outreach in collaboration with the Division of Continuing Education at the U,” said Theresa A. Martinez, assistant vice president for academic outreach. Martinez is the principal investigator on the grant and will lead the program.

“We are honored to be chosen and see this as a statewide initiative that will address the perception of who belongs and who can succeed at a college or university, which often excludes students of color, first generation students, and other students who face substantial barriers,” she said.

Utah high school students are among some of the most college-ready in the nation, yet some of the least likely to be in college by age 19. Although 84 percent of Utahns ages 18 to 24 have regular high school diplomas, only 34 percent are enrolled in college, down from 41 percent in 1992. In 2004, only 43 percent of high school graduates in Utah went on to college immediately upon leaving high school, the lowest rate in the nation.

The groundbreaking “College Guide” program, funded by the foundation at the University of Virginia, places recent college graduates in communities where college-going rates are below the state average, to help students plan for and complete the college application process.

“This innovative approach has succeeded in Virginia with notable increases in applications to colleges in high schools where the guides work,” said Josh Wyner, vice president of programs for the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation. “At one Virginia high school, we saw a 23 percent jump in the college admissions acceptance rate.”

The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation is a private, independent foundation established in 2000 by the estate of Jack Kent Cooke to help young people of exceptional promise reach their full potential through education. It focuses in particular on students with financial need. The foundation’s programs include scholarships to undergraduate, graduate and high school students, and grants to organizations that serve high-achieving students with financial need.

The other grant recipients are Brown University, Franklin and Marshall College, Loyola College in Maryland, Pennsylvania State University, Tufts University, the University of Alabama, the University of California, Berkeley, the University of Missouri and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, in partnership with the National College Access Network, will also create a National College Advising Corps Coordinating Office to support the development of the grants and encourage other universities to start similar programs.