Dec. 04, 2009
Christian Basi, BasiC@missouri.edu, 573-882-4430
COLUMBIA, Mo. – Less than a quarter of Missouri residents have attended college. Twenty percent of the people who do go don’t graduate. Two programs at the University of Missouri are reaching out to prospective students across the state, encouraging low-income, first-generation and underrepresented students to attend college.
MU Access Initiatives work to change the mindset of many students who might not believe a college education is attainable. Simultaneously, The College Advising Corps provides advising and encouragement throughout the college admissions process. The Corps employs MU graduates who work full time as guides to high school and community college students across Missouri.
“Having a college degree should be an option for all Missourians,” said Ann Korschgen, vice provost for enrollment management at Mizzou and a first-generation college graduate. “One of our high priorities at MU is to ensure that students be made aware of that opportunity through the extraordinary access programs that we offer.”
DeAngela Burns-Wallace, the director of Access Initiatives in the Division of Enrollment Management, knows first-hand the challenges of aspiring to higher education as a first-generation college student from Kansas City. Her parents encouraged her to go to college, but they weren’t familiar with the required processes. A friend encouraged Burns-Wallace to apply to schools she thought were out of her league. As a result, Burns-Wallace began her undergraduate education at Stanford University where she studied international relations and African-American studies. She attended the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University before she became a Foreign Service Officer.
With the U.S. Department of State, Burns-Wallace worked as a visa officer in China and a press attaché in South Africa. Later, she worked as a special assistant for former Secretary of State Colin Powell. Recently, she received the 2009 Edward P. Bullard Distinguished Alumnus Award, which recognizes individuals for their leadership and dedication in working with communities of color and mentoring students of color at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public & International Affairs, Princeton University. Her career advanced because of the education she received and encouragement from a friend. However, she says that even though her career had advanced, she did not always feel fulfilled because she was not directly impacting people’s lives.
“When I heard about this job opportunity at MU, in my hometown state, I felt that it was a wonderful opportunity to help young people, just like someone helped me,” Burns-Wallace said.
Burns-Wallace’s plans for Access Initiatives will help more students across the state realize the feasibility of higher education and explore the options that are available to them, instead of relying on informal networks to help them through the college application process.
“We are trying to create a college-going atmosphere across the state,” Burns-Wallace said. “As the state’s flagship, land-grant institution, we are a major player because of the resources and programs we have available to aspiring students.”
Burns-Wallace is examining the initiatives that MU is currently pursuing to see who is being impacted, and what regional areas of the state are benefitting from the programs. She hopes to replicate and strengthen existing partnerships, like those with the Kauffman Scholars, a multi-year program that helps Kansas City students prepare for higher education. Access Initiatives will be a supplement to existing programs and will provide resources to increase the reach of these programs.
“We’re looking for partners that are already doing access work, so that we can be an impactful partner in the work that they are already doing. That sense of collaboration among the school districts, the access programs and higher education is where the future of access work has to move in order to be effective.” Burns-Wallace said. “It takes more than one of those entities to really help close that achievement gap and to push students toward higher education and be prepared to access it in the right way.”
Burns-Wallace also sees a need for programs to continue helping and motivating these students once they begin their higher education careers.
“There has to be wraparound services and a commitment to those low-income, first generation or underrepresented minority students,” Burns-Wallace said. “If you can get them in the door, but you can’t get them out, then that’s problematic.”
Beth Tankersley-Bankhead, the executive director of Missouri College Advising Corps, was also a first-generation college student. She grew up in the rural town of Versailles, Mo., where she didn’t have much exposure to higher education options. Tankersley-Bankhead attended Central Missouri State University to study elementary education and, after working in the higher education sector in Illinois, Nebraska and Indiana, returned to her alma mater to work with community engagement programs before coming to MU.
“Being a first-generation student, I remember that certain college application processes were overwhelming,” Tankersley-Bankhead said. “I just felt lost, and my family members, though not intending to be, weren’t completely supportive because they didn’t understand the value of a college education.”
The Missouri College Advising Corps helps Missouri students realize that higher education is an attainable goal by providing information about the application processes and mentoring students through the process. Advisors aim to increase the number of low-income, first-generation and underrepresented students entering and completing higher education.
The college guides are trained to advise students on how to find the right school for them, inform students about financial aid options and provide other support. Two-year “term limits” ensure that the MU college guides remain close in age to the students they are mentoring. Guides are also provided leadership and professional development opportunities during their service period, another benefit to them as they progress in their careers.
“The Missouri College Advising Corps was created because we recognized that we have so many young individuals in our state who historically have not accessed higher education,” Tankersley-Bankhead said. “Most of those students just need someone to say, ‘you can do this.’”
MU was one of the founding institutions to be a part of the National College Advising Corps, which now includes 13 institutions. The Missouri College Advising Corps began in 2007, and this year, has placed 13 college guides in 11 high schools and three community colleges in both rural and urban communities across the state of Missouri.