Counselor Education Students to Assist At-Risk Students in Area High Schools
A new Northwest Arkansas Career and College Coaches Program will start as a pilot project in Benton and Washington counties next year. The program based at the University of Arkansas is modeled after Gov. Mike Beebe’s “Arkansas Works” program.
The program, organized and funded through a partnership between the Walton Family Foundation, the University of Arkansas College of Education and Health Professions, the Northwest Arkansas Council’s Educational Excellence Work Group and the Northwest Arkansas Education Service Cooperative, will place 15 career coaches in 17 Northwest Arkansas high schools.
“Arkansas career and college coaches have already produced encouraging results in other parts of the state,” Beebe said. “With the right guidance, students who otherwise may have abandoned their educational pursuits are instead finding the potential for lifelong careers. By banding together, the Walton Family Foundation, the University of Arkansas and the Northwest Arkansas Council are bringing more students this opportunity that will further improve Arkansas’ educational future.”
The career coaches will guide at-risk high school students and their families in pursuing the students’ best opportunities after high school graduation. The career coaches will be selected from graduate students enrolled in the counselor education master’s or doctoral programs in the College of Education and Health Professions at the University of Arkansas.
Kristin Higgins, assistant professor of counselor education, will serve as principal investigator of the project. Dan Kissinger, associate professor of counselor education, Arie Greenleaf, assistant professor of counselor education, and Gary Ritter, holder of the Twenty-First Century Chair in Education Policy, will serve as co-principal investigators.
“Our community needs a program like this to help prepare students for higher education,” said Jim Rollins, superintendent of the Springdale School District. “As a result of this partnership, we’ll see more kids complete their high school degrees with a clear understanding of what their next step will be.”
A three-year, $1.5 million grant from the Walton Family Foundation will support the Northwest Arkansas program. The Arkansas Works program, which operates in 21 Arkansas counties, is not currently serving school districts in Benton or Washington counties.
Each of the 15 career coaches will work with 20 pre-qualified high school juniors or seniors and their families for at least a year.
The career coaches will help students explore post-high school education options and assist in preparing for and enrolling to take the ACT college entrance exam. The coaches will stress family involvement in the entire process as they help students go over college scholarship and financial aid opportunities, college selection and technical training possibilities.
The counselor education graduate students selected to work 20 hours each week as career coaches will have the skills, knowledge and abilities to facilitate career development.
"We welcome the opportunity to partner with these 17 high schools to share our faculty's expertise and our students' knowledge to enhance and expand post-secondary educational opportunities for our area's youth," said Tom Smith, dean of the College of Education and Health Professions. "We are proud to be part of an unprecedented collaboration of public, private and philanthropic resources interested in strengthening career opportunities."
The partners’ goal is to improve high school retention and graduation rates and to increase the number of Northwest Arkansas students who pursue education after high school, said Kim Davis, project director for the Northwest Arkansas Council, a private, nonprofit organization that promotes such things as economic opportunity, education initiatives and quality of life enhancements in the region.
"This pilot program is a huge opportunity for so many students and partners in our region," Davis said. “The grant will work toward accomplishing two key objectives in the Greater Northwest Arkansas Development Strategy – to increase high school graduation rates and college-going rates.”
The grant is an acknowledgement of the strong regional collaboration under way between educators and Northwest Arkansas business and community leaders, Davis said.