College Advising Corps

March 2016 Member Spotlight: College Advising Corps

 CAC Logo


Elevator Speech: College Advising Corps (CAC) is a national, nonprofit organization with affiliates in 14 states that work to increase the number of first-generation college-going, low-income, and/or underrepresented students who apply, enter, and complete college. CAC places recent college graduates from partner universities as full-time college advisers in America’s high schools. These advisers work to become a part of their school’s community by collaborating with teachers, counseling staff, and administrators to foster a college-going culture within the schools they serve. From navigating the mazes of college admissions, to securing SAT/ACT fee waivers and assisting students and their families with FAFSA applications, CAC advisers become experts, mentors, champions, and guides. Currently, CAC runs 24 programs at partner colleges and universities with over 500 advisers and collectively serves more than 140,000 students per year. Since its inception, CAC has served over 600,000 students.

NPEA Member Type: Umbrella Organizational Member
Leadership: Nicole Hurd, Founder and CEO
Interviewee: Jennifer Cox Bell, National Director of Partnerships
Contact Information:, (617) 870-3869
Locations: Alaska, Arizona, California, Georgia, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, and Virginia (view all sites)
Year Founded:2005
Staffing: 15 FTE in national office, and over 500 advisers working at 24 partner programs across the country
Students Served: Currently, CAC annually serves over 140,000 students. Since its inception, CAC has served over 600,000 students.
“About Us”: Mission & History, What We Do, Our Team
Get Involved: Become a Donor, Become an Adviser, Become a Partner Program, Careers
Main Website:
Social Media: Twitter, Instagram, Facebook


Click on the links below to learn more, or scroll down to read the full interview.


Q: Please provide a brief overview of your organization, College Advising Corps (CAC).
A: College Advising Corps (CAC) is a national, nonprofit organization with affiliate sites in 14 states that works to increase the number of first-generation college-going, low-income, and underrepresented students who apply, enter, and complete college. CAC places recent college graduates from partner universities as full-time college advisers in America’s high schools. These advisers work to become a part of their school’s community by collaborating with teachers and administrators to foster a college-going culture within the schools they serve. This includes devising creative approaches to reach and connect with students and their families in order to open their eyes to the possibilities of college. Equally important, advisers supplement, rather than replace, existing high school counseling staff, thereby helping the school to reach more students. From navigating the mazes of college admissions, to securing SAT/ACT fee waivers and assisting students and their families with FAFSA applications, CAC advisers become experts, mentors, champions, and guides.

Q: Please share a little more about the history of CAC. What significant events and/or people have shaped the mission and goals of your organization?
A: College Advising Corps traces its roots to 2005 at the University of Virginia (UVA). With the help of the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, Dr. Nicole Hurd—then serving as dean and director of the Center for Undergraduate Excellence at the University of Virginia—launched the “College Guide” program by placing 14 recent UVA graduates in rural communities where college-going rates were below the state average. The advisers were charged with helping low-income, first-generation, and underrepresented students plan for and complete the college and financial aid application processes. The pilot project was a success, as many Virginia colleges reported increases in applications from high schools served by the advisers. Pleased with the results of the pilot year, in 2007 the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, with additional support from the Lumina Foundation for Education, invested $12 million over four years to expand the program nationally. In March 2007, the program was renamed the National College Advising Corps, added ten new higher education partners, and moved its headquarters to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC). With the steadfast commitment of UNC’s senior leadership to build a sustainable national movement committed to college access and success, the National College Advising Corps grew year after year. In 2013, the National College Advising Corps became an independent, nonprofit organization and was rebranded as College Advising Corps. From 2005 to 2014, College Advising Corps served over 543,000 students in high schools across America. Today, after ten years of growth and impact, with more than 500 advisers, we serve students in 14 states, in high schools both rural and urban, from New York City to the Rio Grande Valley to the San Francisco Bay Area.

Q: Speaking of program growth, please share what plans CAC has for its future. What next steps and goals are your focused on?
A:College Advising Corps (CAC) plans to continue to grow, both within existing states and through the addition of new states and program innovations. CAC is currently in the midst of a business planning engagement with The Bridgespan Group to help with the articulation and refinement of the growth strategy. Additionally, CAC is part of an innovative impact model called CollegePoint, with America Achieves and Bloomberg Philanthropies. Through this initiative, eAdvisers with at least two years of advising experience provide remote support to high-achieving low- and moderate-income students. These students are identified and initially contacted by the College Board, which then offers them the opportunity to sign up for college advising support through CAC. Students who choose to participate receive support from an eAdviser who uses video chat, email, telephone, and text messages to help students prepare for college. This initiative was made possible thanks to the support of the College Board and a gift from Bloomberg Philanthropies.


Q:NPEA is committed to creating a culture of data with and for its members through NPEA Data Counts. In what ways does CAC currently use data to inform decisions and programming?
A: College Advising Corps is dedicated to rigorously analyzing the impact of our advisers in the schools they serve. Our ability to measure the impact of our advisers is critical to serving students well and increasing the number of underrepresented students that apply to and enroll in college. As part of our evaluation strategy, our advisers collect data daily on a number of outputs and outcomes. We also measure our impact with the help of a comprehensive annual evaluation conducted by Evaluation and Assessment Systems of Education (EASE), led by Dr. Eric Bettinger of Stanford University. Key outcomes include the percentages of students at participating high schools that apply and gain acceptance to college.

Each day our advisers track activities that are key performance indicators for increasing college enrollment rates. Adviser activities and their work with students on college preparation milestones are tracked in our custom built web-based tracker, GRACE (Getting Results And Creating Equity). These activities include: campus visits, college representative visits, college fairs, SAT/ACT registration, college workshops, college application submissions, FAFSA completion, and scholarship dollars awarded.

Our annual comprehensive evaluation of College Advising Corps began in 2009. Each year, the evaluation addresses the following questions:

  1. Does the presence of a College Advising Corps adviser lead to more students enrolling in college upon graduation and persisting in college thereafter?
  2. Does the presence of a College Advising Corps adviser lead to more students entering the pathway to college as measured by course choice, grades, college applications, and other markers, which lead to college attendance?
  3. What role does the College Advising Corps adviser play in fostering a strong college-going culture in their high school?

To answer these questions, the evaluators use a mixed methods approach and conduct both quantitative and qualitative empirical analyses. The data they use include annual student, alumni, and adviser surveys, administrative data from partner schools, site visits, interviews, focus groups, and college enrollment data from the National Student Clearinghouse.

Lastly, an ongoing, randomized controlled trial conducted in Texas also gives us the opportunity to examine causal effects.

Q: Speaking of partnerships and collaborations, how has CAC developed partnerships with other schools, college access programs, organizations, universities, and others to further the organization’s work?
College Advising Corps partners with 24 colleges and universities and over 500 high schools to place full-time, near-peer college advisers. For the virtual program model, College Advising Corps is part of the College Point initiative with Matriculate, Strive for College, College Possible, College Board, Bloomberg Philanthropies, and America Achieves. Additional key regional partnerships include Achieve Atlanta, Boston WINS, GreenLight Fund Social Innovation Fund, Michigan College Access Network, New Profit Pathways Fund, and AmeriCorps. All of these partnerships have been invaluable to the success of CAC. For example, our regional partnership with Achieve Atlanta included an externally funded, district-wide initiative, which placed CAC advisers in every school in the entire Atlanta public school system.

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Q: What challenges, if any, has your organization encountered in doing college access work? What has your organization learned from these experiences?
Having recent college graduates as college advisers allows CAC to capitalize on the tremendous potential of utilizing trained, energetic near-peer mentors to reach and connect with students in need. However, we also recognize that it is critical that these advisers also reach, earn the trust of, and learn how to best support and work closely with families. Each year, CAC collects approximately 30,000 student surveys; we found that the single best predictor of whether or not a student would enroll in college was the question asking if that student had talked to his/her parents about college. As a result of this knowledge, CAC has developed parent engagement training sessions, and we have added it as one of our key performance indicators. We have also launched a “Parent Academy” pilot initiative in New York and Detroit.

Q: What, if any, professional development resources has your organization found to be helpful that you might encourage other NPEA members to consider? Why?
At CAC we are constantly trying to find resources that are user-friendly for students and families as well as highly accurate and thorough. Some of our favorite resources thus far include College Board Big Future, the Financial Aid Toolkit, and College Greenlight. In addition, we recommend the College Board workshops and counselor resources, and the TG Student Financial Education Program.

Q: What are 3-5 pieces of advice or best practices from your experience in the field that you think would be important to share with other NPEA members?
Here are three best practices of or lessons learned from our organization that we feel are critical to success and could be replicated by others. First, with regard to post-secondary leadership teams (PSLTs): increasing the college-going rate in Advising Corps partner high schools is not a one person job. Strategic collaboration is an effective tool to help more students gain access to higher education. The Advising Corps connects near-peer college advisers with high school counselors, principals, and teachers to increase the college-going rate among low-income, first generation to college, and underrepresented students. PSLTs help to establish or grow the college-going culture, build a college access infrastructure in the school, and make a positive impact on student achievement and college access while encouraging collaboration around common college access goals and outcomes.

Second, with regard to supplementing counselors: advisers work in collaboration with school counselors, teachers, and administrators to assist students with the post-secondary application and enrollment process including college applications, test registration, financial aid, and scholarships. Advisers supplement, not replace, the work of school counselors. In our Memorandums of Agreement with partner high schools or districts, we include language that prohibits a partner high school or district from using the presence of an Advising Corps adviser to replace an existing counselor at the school. Simply put, because our advisers are meant to supplement existing staff, if a school is to remain a CAC partner school, the school will not replace a counselor with an adviser. With a national student to school counselor ratio of over 450 to 1, the CAC has found that counselors are eager for college advising support from advisers. It is the goal of all CAC program directors and advisers to work in partnership with schools, communities, and families to provide greater access to college for youth.

Third, with regard to training: all advisers undergo an intensive four-to-six week summer training program. This includes five weeks led by the local program director and one week at the national summit led by the national office. During the training, advisers learn from experts in the fields of admissions, financial aid, college counseling, secondary education and counseling, and post-secondary education. Advisers are trained only to provide post-secondary-related services and are not qualified in other areas of counseling. In-service training then continues throughout the academic year.


Q: How has your organization benefitted from membership in NPEA?
College Advising Corps recently became an NPEA umbrella organizational member. We have already benefitted greatly from the webinars and attendance at past conferences, and we are really looking forward to presenting with the KIPP Foundation at the 2016 annual conference this spring. At CAC, we pride ourselves on creating a learning community among our program directors across the country, and our membership in NPEA has allowed us to offer our affiliates significant discounts to connect to this bigger national network that offers both broad and regional professional development resources. In particular, our affiliates have long found the NPEA conference to be an incredible forum for sharing best practices and new ideas in the field of educational access. For example, our Michigan College Advising Corps affiliates attended the 2013 NPEA conference in Cambridge, MA and led a session on how they had incorporated the research of keynote speaker Dr. Mandy Savitz-Romer—co-author of Ready, Willing, and Able: A Development Approach to College Access and Success and Lecturer on Education and Director of Prevention Science and Practice/CAS in Counseling at the Harvard Graduate School of Education — into their training and work with students.