The Rockingham County Education Foundation (RCEF) was formed in 2008 by a group of concerned citizens in response to a changing economic and educational environment within Rockingham County.
The group, comprised of local business persons, educators, relators, and local government officials who wanted to heighten the profile of public education in our community. The group’s vision was to increase the county’s educational attainment levels to rank among the top five rural counties in North Carolina, and in doing so, attract the interests of businesses wishing to locate in rural areas of North Carolina.
The Rockingham County Education Foundation quickly realized that, for many students, financial considerations put secondary education out of their reach. Understanding this, board members began investigating programs that were having a positive educational impact. The search for best practices led to the Patrick County VA School System, as well as UNC-Chapel Hill. Through this project, we wanted to increase the percentage of our high school graduates that were going on to college.
We joined with the Carolina College Advising Corps (CCAC) and The Reidsville Area Foundation to fund the placement of student advisors in all four Rockingham County high schools. CCAC is an affiliate of the National College Advising Corps, which operates in fourteen (14) states. The Advising Corps model is a targeted approach that integrates student support into the high school model in order to address non-academic barriers to student achievement and success.
By placing well-trained, recent college graduates as full-time advisers in the nation’s persistently lowest-performing schools, the Advising Corps provides the support that high-need students must have to navigate the complex processes of college admissions and matriculation and securing financial aid. Advisers also work to foster a college-going culture within the schools they serve, which is one of the best predictors of whether students will pursue higher education at all. While all students can access the talents of the CCAC advisors, the focus is on helping low-income and first generation college students.
In specific terms, the advisors focus on critical areas that are crucial to success in navigating the college application process. For many of the targeted high school students, the first step is convincing them that college attendance is a realistic goal and expectation. The primary concern often is financial in nature. The advisors walk hand-in-hand with both students and their parents through the federal financial aid process (FAFSA). Further, the advisors have been trained to know where additional financial aid can be found at specific schools. They have made contacts in the financial aid offices of colleges across the state as they visit campuses during their training. They are aware of scholarship programs across the country and become familiar with local scholarship opportunities as they are placed with their school. Bringing all of this together, the financial barrier to college attendance is removed.
Other areas of focus include parental counseling, campus visits (which can really be an eye-opening motivator for first generation college students), SAT/ACT test registration and preparation, and, of course, college application preparation and review. While much of the focus naturally is on the 11th and 12th grade students, meaningful time is dedicated to reaching younger students. The sooner that students focus on what they need to do to prepare for college, the better their chances are for success.
From small beginnings, the Foundation has expanded upon the Carolina College Advising Corps and has increased its focus on early childhood education, workforce development, teacher assistance programs, and parent engagement.