Recent TCU graduates help North Texas students forge a path beyond high school.
As the oldest of four children of Nigerian immigrants, Timi Ijabiken understood little about how to make his way to college in the U.S. From applications and SATs to scholarships and financial aid, the process of pursuing higher education felt out of reach at times for this first-generation college student from Arlington, Texas.
Ijabiken, who now holds a 2019 degree in psychology, credits TCU’s College Advising Corps for playing a pivotal role in his future. TCU’s chapter, like all chapters affiliated with the national advising organization, seeks to make college access more equitable for students who want to continue their education after high school.
The 21st-century numbers paint a portrait of persistent racial disparity in education. The American Council on Education’s 2019 status report revealed that 60.5 percent of Hispanic Americans had attained no more than a high school diploma. Compare that with 49.9 percent of American Indians and Alaska Natives, 45.9 percent of Native Hawaiians or other Pacific Islanders, 45 percent of Black people, 34.5 percent of individuals of more than one race, 34.2 percent of white people and 29 percent of Asians.
In seeking to increase college matriculation rates for marginalized students through its network of advisers on high school campuses, TCU’s College Advising Corps hires young Horned Frog graduates to work with high school seniors.
As a student at Sam Houston High School in Arlington, Ijabiken met regularly with Katherine Rodriguez, the TCU-affiliated adviser working there.
“She helped set me on the trajectory I am on right now,” said Ijabiken, who is currently “paying it forward” by working as an adviser at his alma mater. He’s among 54 TCU college advisers scattered throughout low-income, heavily minority high schools in seven school districts in Dallas-Fort Worth.
Matt Burckhalter, director of TCU’s arm of the national organization, said the campus program began in the 2011-12 academic year with 16 college advisers fresh out of TCU.
New graduates, or “near peers,” as Burckhalter describes them, relate better to high school students in large part because of the narrow age gap.
“A lot of students don’t think teachers and staff understand what they’re going through,” Ijabiken said. “But I’ve lived it, and not that long ago, either.”
TCU graduates commit two years to working as college facilitators in a local high school, counseling students on their options after high school, whether a four-year university, junior college, a certification program or military service.
“We’re all about giving kids an opportunity for a better life,” said Burckhalter, who added that TCU is now the third-largest College Advising Corps of 31 in the nation.
High school seniors who receive advising through TCU’s program are 26 percent more likely to apply to at least one college and one scholarship, he said.
Each adviser tries to meet one-on-one with every high school senior, a number that can exceed 800 depending on the campus. To date, TCU’s College Advising Corps has worked with about 100,000 high school seniors.
“TCU has made a huge commitment to the city of Fort Worth,” said Nicole Hurd, founder and CEO of College Advising Corps. “TCU is a unique university in that it cares about the community and cares about meeting rigorous accountability and programmatic goals, proving that those are not competing values.”
The advisers fill a critical gap in large public high schools with significant minority populations, said Nick Torrez, principal of Polytechnic High School in Fort Worth. Traditional counselors at Poly focus on helping students design class schedules and fulfill graduation requirements, leaving little time to help seniors with college selection.
“Many students don’t know what they want to do when they graduate,” the principal said. “They might think they should help Dad in bricklaying. But an adviser can show that student how he could be more helpful to his family with a degree and a good job.”
Thanks to a $1.55 million grant to the TCU College Advising Corps by the Rainwater Charitable Foundation, six advisers are now working at Torrez’s school, up from a single adviser in prior years.
“The grant has really allowed us to deepen our impact in the local community in ways we never could have dreamed of,” Burckhalter said. “We want to help bring better jobs to Tarrant County and to expand the tax base.
“Great post-secondary outcomes for high school students are central to that.”
BY LISA MARTIN