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After hearing a presentation during a forum in Atlanta recently, Grady County School Superintendent Dr. Kermit Gilliard liked what he heard about an innovative program impacting the lives of students in Athens and metro Atlanta and he wanted Grady County students to have the same advantage.
So, he decided to contact University of Georgia officials and ask how the Georgia College Advising Corps could branch out into southwest Georgia.
A few telephone calls and emails later, and Gilliard had earned the support of officials in Athens.
Cairo High School will be the first Georgia school outside of Athens and metro Atlanta to have a Georgia College Advising Corps advisor beginning in August.
The program works through the Institute of Higher Education at the University of Georgia to increase the number of low-income, first-generation, and underrepresented students who attend and complete higher education.
The advisor who will be assigned to Cairo High School next term will work one-on-one with C.H.S. seniors as they navigate college admissions and financial aid processes.
“I knew we had to provide this opportunity for our students. We are fortunate U.G.A. is willing to work with us this far from Athens, which is the ‘home office’ for the program,” Dr. Gilliard said.
According to the superintendent, the advisor who will work at C.H.S. will be a recent college graduate. U.G.A. will provide in-depth training for the graduate prior to his or her coming to work. Officials say that advisors are close in age and background to the students they will serve and are proper role models, cheerleaders and information resources for students at C.H.S.
The cost of having an advisor on-site is approximately $50,000, but U.G.A. identifies grants and donations to fund the majority of the cost and the local expense is $13,335.
“Most of the advisors are first-generation college graduates themselves and they have had to work to pay their way through school. They haven’t been given a free ride and I believe they can understand and relate to our students,” Dr. Gilliard said.
The superintendent told board members that other programs such as CollegeMakers and Gear Up are also designed to target these same students. However, Dr. Gilliard said for the limited cost to the system, he believed it was worthwhile to bring in additional resources that would benefit local students.
He suggested that students would be more comfortable with close in age advisors who could answer many of the questions high school seniors considering higher education might have.
Dr. Gilliard said the advisor would work closely with C.H.S Principal Chris Lokey and the high school guidance department.
The superintendent told the school board members that the system would not have a role in hiring the advisor, and it is only a one-year commitment.
“For $13,000, it is well worth it,” board member Jeff Worsham said.
Board member Derrick Majors commented, “We can never put enough in front of our students to motivate them to stay on the right path and provide someone who can answer questions for them.”
In 2019-2020, the program employed 23 advisers and of those, 65 percent were first-generation college graduates, 78 percent were Pell Grant recipients and 78 percent of them were people of color.
Of the 4,100 high school seniors who met with advisers in 2018-2019, 40 percent were more likely to apply for college, 37 percent were more likely to apply for a scholarship, and 20 percent were more likely to be accepted to college.
Some of the job responsibilities of advisers include assisting students in preparing for and registering for the A.C.T., S.A.T., and ACCUPLACER tests; helping students in navigating the college application process; assisting students in researching and applying for scholarships; and educating and assisting students and parents with the financial aid application process.
The advisers are also permitted to spend up to five percent of their work day assisting the high school staff with other assignments.
“My goal is for every C.H.S. student to have a plan for their future before they walk across the stage to receive their high school diploma on graduation night. This program will assist us in reaching that goal,” Dr. Gilliard said.