Advisors Help to Boost College Enrollment Among Rural Missouri Schools

Credit: Alisa Nelson. MissouriNet, October 11, 2022.

High school students in some rural Missouri school districts are getting help to plan for life after graduation – and it’s paying off.

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Missouri launched a team effort last year to have college and career advisors help these students find their passion in life and make a roadmap to get there. It’s called the Missouri Postsecondary Advising Initiative – a partnership between the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, an organization called rootEd Alliance, and Ozarks Technical Community College.

“It stemmed from a local Missourian actually coming out and saying, ‘We need to make sure we’re providing access and exposure to our students across the state.’ All students matter, but there was this recognition that sometimes in our rural areas, students aren’t quite afforded the opportunity to learn about various careers and opportunities post-high school,” said State Education Commissioner Margie Vandeven.

The initiative has helped to boost college enrollment by 7.5% at all participating Missouri schools – and by as much as 14% at select locations. Vandeven said one-third of college-bound students at these schools report that they would not be going to college if it were not for these counselors.

“So many times, students just need the understanding of what opportunities truly do exist for them. Starting in these rural areas, students might not have considered various options,” Vandeven said.

The advisors can help the students to fill out the FAFSA, a federal application to access financial aid. Among other things, they help them to consider all career opportunities, whether that be college, a workplace credential, or the armed services.

“One of the things that I hear about in my role are students who just feel like, we hear about mental health needs and some of the other concerns that are out there, and they just feel like they lack purpose. What this program seems to do is really give them understanding of their purpose in life and being able to find that and meet that with fulfillment. To me that’s very exciting,” she said.

The state allocated $10 million in federal relief funding to have the advisors work alongside school counselors and help the students. Now in 135 rural districts, Vandeven said she hopes the program will be funded for years to come.

“Everybody’s really looking for what are some ways to best invest in our students. This opportunity was something that was relatively new to us,” said Vandeven. “I think we’re one of the first states to really embark upon this adventure and we have found it to be successful for us. I think the state itself will want to continue to invest and do those types of activities that show the greatest amount of impact for our students and for our state.”