UW Graduates Advise Students at Local High Schools on Importance of Higher Education

October 25, 2012

Recent University of Wyoming graduates are going into schools and serving as full-time college advisers to convince local high school students about the importance of higher education.

The unique program -- Wyoming College Advising Corps -- is offered to increase access to higher education. It is based on a national program, with the primary goal of raising the rates of college enrollment and completion among low-income, first-generation-college (neither parent holds a college degree) and underrepresented high school students.

College advisers have been assigned to local Wyoming schools the past two years, increasing from six UW graduates last fall to 11 this school year, says Becky Vinzant, who manages the College Access Challenge Grant (CACG) program at UW. The CACG has 12 initiatives to increase higher education awareness among the state’s high school students.

Participating schools in the Wyoming College Advising Corps are in Big Piney, Casper, Cheyenne, Cody, Evanston, Kemmerer, Pinedale, Powell, Rawlins, Riverton, Rock Springs, Sheridan and Torrington. (See student list below)

Many of the targeted teens in the local high schools are well-qualified students who face different obstacles to pursuing higher education, such as a lack of information about college admissions and financial aid.

The UW graduates help to knock down those barriers, Vinzant says.

Using the near-peer model, the UW graduates in each school help local students and their families with the college application and admission process, completion of the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) form, scholarship availability and the transfer process if they are a community college student.

“The advisers offer their services to any student who wishes to know more about the college application process, or needs help deciding on schools and majors, ” Vinzant says. “As they prepare for the next chapter in their lives, preparing for college with the application process can be a daunting task, particularly to those students whose parents are unfamiliar with the process. The corps helps ensure that all students are given the opportunity to reach their full potential.”

The current CACG initiative -- of placing recent UW graduates into high schools as college advisers -- is funded by a U.S. Department of Education grant and extends the National College Advising Corps.

The UW student advisers also work to foster a college-going culture within the schools they serve. Such a culture is one of the best predictors of whether students will pursue higher education, Vinzant says.

The advisers work in their assigned high schools helping students -- no matter their grade level -- in the college search and application process.

“They also offer their assistance in any stage of the college search process,” Vinzant says. “Each adviser also is assigned to one of the local Wyoming community colleges to help students transition from a two-year institution to a four-year college or university,” she adds.

Vinzant says the challenge for Wyoming is that 36 percent of adults have college degrees but, by the year 2025, 62 percent of the state's population will need degrees to meet workforce demand.

The number of Wyoming college graduates needs to increase faster to keep the state competitive, according to a report, "A Stronger Nation Through Higher Education," released by the private, independent Lumina Foundation. The foundation advocates for increasing students' access to higher education. The report projects that, by 2018, about 62 percent of jobs in Wyoming will require at least an associate's degree.

For more information about the Wyoming CACG Program, contact Vinzant at (307) 766-6440 or email rvinzant@uwyo.edu.

Respective high schools where UW student advisers serve, their hometowns and majors are:

-- Casper Kelly Walsh High School/Natrona County High School: Laura Wespetal, River Falls, Wis., English.

-- Cheyenne South High School: Trenton Bjornestad, Powell, business administration.

-- Cody High School: Lauren Perry, Buffalo, literature.

-- Evanston High School/Kemmerer High School:  Lauren Johnson, Kemmerer, political science.

-- Pinedale High School/Big Piney High School: Alexander Edwards, Lone Tree, Colo., international studies/French.

-- Powell High School: Samuel Weinstein, Grand Forks, N.D., communications.

-- Sheridan High School: Heather Gifford, Sheridan, business administration.

-- Rawlins High School: Molly Sullivan, Riverton, humanities/fine arts.

-- Riverton High School/Wyoming Indian High School: Aaron Taylor, Newcastle, secondary education social studies/political science.

-- Rock Springs High School: Faith Helton, Riverton, business administration.

-- Torrington High School: Amy Covington, Aurora, Colo., psychology.

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