Higher education for all

Lawrence Harris and the Georgia College Advising Corps work to increase access

Higher education for all

Lawrence Harris, an adviser at Clarke Central High School through the Georgia College Advising Corps, meets with 18-year-old senior Sha’Veon Gilham.

When Lawrence Harris began advising college-bound high school students, he had no idea his work would eventually capture the attention of President Barack Obama. Harris (BS ’12), an adviser at Clarke Central High School in Athens, was recognized by the president at the White House during a summit meeting on expanding college access.

“Lawrence went to the University of Georgia, and like a lot of first-generation college students it wasn’t easy for him,” Obama said during the Jan. 16 summit. “But now he’s giving back. He’s made it his mission to help other young people like him graduate, as a college adviser at Clarke Central High School in Athens, Georgia.”

Harris works with the Georgia College Advising Corps, a program within the UGA Institute of Higher Education that helps high school seniors prepare their applications for college. The program, part of a national initiative to increase college enrollment and retention, trains and places recent college graduates in high schools to work alongside academic advisers in supporting students’ postsecondary goals.

Harris poses with President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama at the White House in January. The president mentioned Harris and his work as an adviser in remarks during a summit meeting on expanding college access. Photo by Pete Bouza/White House.

“The most pressing issue I’ve seen is test scores,” Harris says. “We have students with amazing GPAs who are active and help the community, but then when it comes to test scores, they’re super low.”

As an adviser, he is working to provide students with test preparation resources to help bolster scores and increase their chances of acceptance to their desired university.

Since many of the students who need help are low income, the GCAC hosts events such as financial aid information nights and conducts one-on-one college advising sessions with students and their families.

GCAC was established by UGA in 2008 as a part of the larger national College Advising Corps program and was launched with four advisers, including Harris. Last year, GCAC received a $1 million grant from the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation to expand its efforts to Atlanta. The program now employs 16 advisers.

Harris says the recognition he received from President Obama was invaluable not only for himself, but for the students he serves as well.

“It was definitely an opportunity I never expected to have. It helped impact our students here,” he says. “A lot of students wanted to know how that opportunity came about and how they could have an opportunity like that, so I think it was really motivating.”

Harris works with Clarke Central senior Deanna Howard, 18, in the high school’s advising and career resource center. Howard is interested in attending Kennesaw State University, Georgia State University, Albany State University or the University of West Georgia.

GCAC Executive Director Libby V. Morris, director of the Institute of Higher Education, says the endorsement from President Obama serves as a national mark of recognition for the program’s work in the community.

“When a program such as the Georgia College Advising Corps is recognized by the White House, it’s a high-level badge of approval,” she says. “It says that we’re doing something important not just in the state but we’re doing something important for the nation, and that this program is aligned with national goals as well as state goals.”

After the White House summit, the College Advising Corps received a $10 million grant from the John M. Belk Endowment to provide college advisers in North Carolina. The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation in Virginia also donated $10 million to support advising corps programs in nine states.

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