Recent college grads help make college a reality for underrepresented rural students

GETTYSBURG, PA., Aug. 15, 2014 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- While college access has been part of the national dialogue in urban areas for some time, only recently has this conversation expanded to rural America.

Gettysburg College together with other area colleges are working together to support the work the Pennsylvania College Advising Corps, or PCAC, a program that recruits recent college graduates to serve as near-peer mentors for underserved, first-generation students seeking to attend college.

As part of the nationally-recognized College Advising Corps, PCAC advisers guide students through all stages of the college search and application process—from SAT registration, to campus visits, to financial aid paperwork. Their mission is driven by a national student-to-counselor ratio of 450:1, as well as data indicating that only 1 in 10 low-income students earn a bachelor's degree by age 25 (compared to 50 percent of students from high-income families).

"I felt like I was completely alone in the college process when I was in high school," recalls Elyse Bennett, a PCAC adviser and 2010 Gettysburg College alum. "My [high]school had K-12 all in one building, and so the guidance counselors didn't really have time to help much with college. As a first-generation college student growing up in a rural area, it was hard. When I graduated, I wanted to help kids who were in the same situation."

Since its inception, PCAC has focused its efforts on rural, low-income schools with low college-going rates. It currently has 13 advisers placed in 14 high schools in 6 Pennsylvania counties. The advisers' presence in these schools is not only helping to change perceptions about higher education in these rural communities, it's also changing the way advisers, themselves, think about their work.

"PCAC has changed my entire outlook about higher education," said Unique Patterson, who served as an adviser after graduating from Gettysburg in 2010 and now works as an admissions counselor at Lebanon Valley College.

"Coming from inner-city Philadelphia, I understood the difficulties of college access and availability for urban students, but working for PCAC made me aware of a population that I had little to no experience working with: our students in rural areas. The more I think about how confusing and frustrating the college search process is, the more I realize that all students should be supported and informed about postsecondary options."

This fall, Gettysburg College will welcome two new students who found Gettysburg through PCAC: Emily Nguyen and Shelby Trail —both of whom are the first in their families to attend college. Nguyen's and Trail's stories resonate a common theme heard by college access counselors across the country.

"I'm the first child out of my family to go to college, so my parents were not really sure where to start," said Trail, recalling her first visit to campus as part of a trip led by her college adviser. "I knew as soon as the bus pulled in that Gettysburg was my first choice…. My adviser encouraged me to apply Early Decision, helped me stay on top of loans and deadlines, and explained the large sum of paperwork I was given. Without her I would have been seriously lost in the whole process."

"My adviser informed me about scholarships, grants, and the FAFSA—three things I didn't even know existed," said Nguyen. "If I didn't meet with [my adviser], college would have simply been a dream."

CONTACT: Jamie Yates director of communications and media relations Gettysburg College 717-337-6801 jyates@gettysburg.eduSource:Gettysburg College