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New statewide initiative helps underserved high school students get to college

Aug. 30, 2007 – The University of Utah announces the launch of the Utah College Advising Corps (UCAC), a unique statewide initiative designed to increase college enrollment rates in Utah. The new initiative, funded by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, builds on successful partnerships with Utah System of Higher Education institutions to help all high school students including first generation students, students of color, and students facing financial barriers navigate the often difficult process of preparing, applying, and finding financial aid for college. Fourteen full-time College Access Advisors will be placed in high schools throughout the state over the next four years. The Advisors will work directly with students, teachers, parents and administrators to help students gain access to the colleges throughout the state.

“The message our advisors will bring is that college is accessible and attainable – you can get in and you can graduate,” said Dr. Theresa Martinez, assistant vice president for academic outreach at the University of Utah, and principal administrator of the program. “We believe that the College Access Advisors can make a huge impact even in their first year and reach students who might not have otherwise believed college was a possibility.”

College Access Advisors have already begun work in eight area high schools – Taylorsville, Hunter, Granite, Kearns, East, Cottonwood, West and Granger. “We are focusing on Salt Lake City schools during the first year of the program, as that is where we have identified the greatest need. In subsequent years we will extend the program to the northern and southern ends of the state to encompass high school students statewide,” Martinez said.

Maria Martinez graduated from the University of Utah in May 2007 and is now a College Access Advisor at Granger High School. She said she became involved with UCAC because she has a deep belief in higher education. “A lot of the students we will be working with, for whatever reasons, do not see college as a possibility. I want to be the person that tells them that college is possible, and that they can do it. I want to be the person to guide them through the process because no one else has. I want to make a difference in these students’ lives.”

Arthur Cox, Principal of Granger High, said he is excited to have Maria at the school. “Maria will be working with our students to help them access post secondary education. She’ll also help parents assist their children and feel welcome at the school.” Cox added, “Maria is available to help any student.”

According to Aretha Minor, director of the Utah College Advising Corps, the advisors will help high school students and their families with all aspects of college preparation and admissions. Advisors will assist with ACT test preparation, admissions essays and applications, completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), and assist with securing other types of financial aid such as private scholarships. Minor said the program is about accessibility and attainability. “Our deepest commitment is to ensure that all Utah high school students are aware of and participate in the various higher education opportunities available to them,” Minor said.

Jacob Fitisemanu, the advisor at Kearns High, said he wished he had an advisor when he was in school. “As willing as my parents were, they were unable to guide me through the college prep and admissions process because they had never been there themselves. I hope to be able to facilitate access to college-related resources and provide face-to-face help to high school students who might be going through what I did as a first-generation college student.”

Chuck Wight, associate vice president for academic affairs and undergraduate studies at the U., whose Continuing Education division collaborates closely with UCAC, said that college participation rates among young adults in Utah have dropped in recent years. “The UCAC will help to turn this trend around in order to maintain a well educated workforce and keep our local economy strong.”

In Utah, although 84% of the population ages 18 to 24 have high school diplomas, only 34% attend college directly out of high school. In addition, the average percentage of Utahns ages 25 to 34 who have bachelor’s degrees has declined from 41% to 26% in the last decade. The Utah College Advising Corps will work to increase the number of college graduates in Utah, while also changing the perception of who belongs and who can succeed in college. Advisors will work with all high school students to spread the message that with the right support and direction, all students can go to college.

The Utah College Advising Corps is made possible by a $1 million grant from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, 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 University of Utah is one of only ten higher education institutions across the country that were awarded funding this year by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation. Other institutions include the University of California at Berkeley, Tufts University, Brown University, Pennsylvania State University, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, University of Columbia-Missouri, University of Alabama, Franklin and Marshall College, and Loyola College in Maryland.

For more information about Utah College Advising Corps, please call: Aretha Minor, UCAC Director at 585-5994. You can also find more information at the website: