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Around the Columns

Reaching higher

Missouri College Advising Corps

Kelly Sample helps high school students apply to colleges. 

By many people’s standards, Kelly Sample is from small town Missouri. But to some of the high school students she advises in Salem, Mo., her humble hometown of Republic is a bustling Springfield suburb.

Sample, BA, BA ’11, is an adviser with the Missouri College Advising Corps (MCAC), a mostly privately funded program founded in 2008. It places recent Mizzou graduates such as Sample in high schools to help students apply to colleges. MCAC, headquartered at MU, places “near-peer” representatives in the Kansas City and St. Louis areas, and in south-central Missouri communities such as Salem, where Sample can relate to the 140-plus seniors.

“Since it’s so rural here, there are some jobs that students don’t even know exist because they haven’t been exposed to them,” Sample says. Her favorite part of advising is the one-on-one sessions that help students contemplate career goals. “I get a lot of people who say they want to go into nursing, but they hate science.”

Most important, MCAC works. Before the program, partner schools were sending 39 out of 100 students to college. That number has climbed to 50, while more students are going full time instead of part time and applying to a wider variety of institutions. In four years, the program has grown from 11 high schools to 25, with a 26th being added next semester.

In fall 2011, MCAC started asking advisers to reach a series of measurable goals and tasks, such as meeting with all high school seniors by December and conducting a certain number of campus tours.

“The advisers like it, because if you just said, ‘Go to this high school and increase the percentage of students that go to college,’ they might not know where to start,” says Elizabeth Tankersly-Bankhead, director of MCAC.

Sample appreciates the structure. She knows that her advisees — many of whom will be the first in their families to attend college — do, too.

“The college application process can be pretty intimidating,” Sample says. “But I think just having someone sit down with them and bug them to get stuff done really does help.”