Duke’s thriving College Advising Corps offers civic engagement career pathways to Duke students post-graduation

In today’s economy, in which quality jobs that do not require college degrees are increasingly rare, college access has become a crucial component of economic development and social equality. Yet, barriers abound; not least among them, a dearth of support: the national ratio of high school students to guidance counselor is 467:1. For many low-resource communities across the U.S., budget shortages leave schools with even higher ratios, leaving students without the support structures they need to prepare for, apply to, and attend college. This problem is particularly challenging for first-generation college aspirants who may not have anyone at home to guide them through the process.

@DukeCAC Instagram
@DukeCAC Instagram

Enter the College Advising Corps (CAC). The national College Advising Corps was founded in 2007, with the mission “to increase the number of low-income, first-generation college, and underrepresented high school students who enter and complete higher education.“ To this end, the CAC places well-trained recent college graduates, from twenty four

partner universities, as advisors in underserved high schools. Duke launched its own CAC chapter in 2014 under the direction of Girija Mahajan of the Community Service Center.

College Advising Corps emphasizes a near-peer model, selecting recent graduates as advisors. For these young adults, their own college search is in recent memory, and they can see the experience most realistically. Finding the best, holistic fit for each student is also a priority in CAC’s advising model. Advisors help students to consider: where will this particular student thrive? Duke’s chapter is supported by the national agency of College Advising Corps and AmeriCorps, and funded by the John M. Belk Foundation and the Duke Endowment.

Any excellent civic engagement work can be detected by its reciprocity, and Duke’s CAC chapter shines in this arena. It offers an

@DukeCAC Instagram
@DukeCAC Instagram

unparalleled intensive opportunity for Duke students to engage the local community through Duke, by continuing their service to the community post-graduation. By encouraging Duke’s brightest young alumni to stay and serve in Durham, the local community benefits from their service. The program has allowed Duke to maintain its strong commitment to the Durham Public Schools, and also to build partnerships with new partners in the greater triangle.

Yet while Duke continues to renew its commitment to the greater local region, the CAC members themselves have benefitted, too, from their chance to serve beyond the campus and city limits. Members have enjoyed the opportunity to learn from communities that while they are just thirty minutes away from Duke, feel like a world apart. Program director Girija Mahajan notes that our corps’ composition reflects a national pattern, in which the demographics of the advisors largely reflect those of the schools they work with. This careful matching of advisors to communities they can resonate with cultivates a “pay it forward” mentality of service among advisors, who feel their term of service is a chance to honor and pay forward the service of those who helped them get where they are today.

The Duke corps has already expanded from its initial cohort of seven in 2014-2015 to sixteen advisors in 2015-2016, many of whom are returners, serving for their second year at Duke. Duke University has long emphasized civic engagement as a touchstone of the Duke experience, and the Duke chapter of College Advising Corps has already added great depth and quality to that landscape of service. We at the DOCE look forward to seeing the CAC continue to grow and thrive in the years to come.