WSW: Making College "an Option" For the First Generation

Nov 12, 2015

MSU College Advising Corps mentor Jimmie Cotter (left) speaks with senior Justin Hansen at Comstock High School.
Credit Learning Network of Greater Kalamazoo

Getting to college means getting through the admission process, and finding the money to pay for it. That can be complicated for everyone, more so for a student from the first generation in their family to go to college. 

WMUK’s Gordon Evans spoke with Evan Pauken the Director of College and Career Access Network for the Learning Network of Greater Kalamazoo and Jimmy Cotter, an advisor at Comstock High School. He is part of the Michigan State University College Advising Corps.

The advising corps is a national program placing recent college graduates in schools with high percentages of low-income, first generation college students. Cotter says it gives those students a “near peer” to help them.

Schools are eligible for an advisor based on the percentage of students who receive free or reduced price lunch. Any student at the school can receive assistance. Cotter says financial obstacles are important, but first generation college students may not be aware of deadlines and how to fill out forms. Pauken says students get assistance with financial aid, such as making sure that forms are filled out correctly.

The college advising corps helps address a problem identified in Michigan and other states – a lack of advisers for students in high school. Cotter says the corps of advisors is growing and more colleges and universities are participating and placing advisors in schools throughout the nation. 

Chris Voss, Western Michigan University freshman recruitment coordinator, speaks with Comstock students
Credit Learning Network of Greater Kalamazoo

Pauken says they would like to expand the program. He says there are other districts in Kalamazoo County that are eligible for someone from the College Advisor Corps. Pauken says the Learning Network has committed to providing the startup funding for advisors in various districts. He says the hope is that districts will find the program valuable, and find funding to sustain it into the future.

Cotter says “college application week” was a big success during the last week of October. He says nearly all of the seniors at Comstock High School applied to at least one college during that week. Cotter says some students are very enthusiastic, and others are reluctant. “Every student poses their own challenges, but... every student has a lot of potential.”

Pauken says the most important thing to get across to students and parents is to consider college as an option.