Advising program helping D. 25 students tap more resources, succeed after high school

January 9, 2019 GMT

POCATELLO --The “Heil treatment” is directly responsible for a massive, recent boost in Pocatello High School students receiving scholarships to attend Idaho State University.

As PHS college and career advisors, Kelly Heil and her colleague Jennifer Newsom work closely with school counselors and are charged with helping students access resources to further their educations and to plan for the future.

The state is in its third year of funding the special advisor positions to “build an earlier awareness of options for life after high school.”

Pocatello-Chubbuck School District 25 officials have assigned two college and career advisors each to Pocatello, Century and Highland high schools. Starting this school year, District 25 also added a pair of college and career advisors to work with students at its middle schools. Heil and Newsom also assist students at New Horizons High School.

Heil was recently grocery shopping when she received affirmation that the “Heil treatment”--describing her personal quest to get every one of her students to apply for ISU scholarships and acceptance--hasn’t gone unnoticed. A friend affiliated with ISU said the university’s scholarship office officials used the words “shock” and “awe” to describe the growth in scholarships awarded to PHS students this school year.

ISU has already awarded $500,000 to PHS students who are either planning to attend the university next fall or seeking dual credits there. Heil believes PHS students are on track to bring in another $100,000 in ISU scholarships before a Feb. 15 deadline. By comparison, PHS students were awarded $350,000 in scholarships throughout all of the previous school year.

“I do think having our positions here has helped tremendously,” Heil said.

Last year, Heil and Newsom found many students didn’t bother applying to ISU, convinced they would pursue other options. Many of them changed plans after the scholarship deadline had already passed. This year, Heil and Newsom are urging students to register regardless, knowing it’s a free process and having more options never hurts.

“At this stage last year, we had hardly any students accepted to any college,” Heil said. “As of the beginning of December, we had 150 students admitted to ISU.”

She said 30 more students should have their applications accepted soon.

Jan Harwood, the district’s director of secondary education, said career and college advisors at Highland have placed special emphasis on assisting parents and students in completing financial aid applications. At Century, advisors have focused on educating students about options beyond four-year universities.

Ashley Ames, one of Century’s college and career advisors, will take every freshman in her school on an April 9 field trip to learn about associate degrees offered through ISU’s College of Technology. She also took a group on a field trip to College of Southern Idaho, and she’s worked to make students aware of apprenticeships.

“We’ve come to understand college is is not meant for everyone,” Ames said.

Harwood said the district’s advisors help every student establish four-year plans, which are reviewed annually, to guide them through high school. As early as seventh grade, Harwood said students may take “overload” courses, which provide high school credits, providing them greater flexibility when they choose their high school schedules.

Helping students apply for the state’s dual credit program--which allows high school students to earn college credits--and to pick the appropriate courses to take is a key duty of the advisors.

During the first trimester of this school year alone, District 25 students earned 4,880 dual credits, valued at $319,284, Harwood said. Highland students earned 2,115 credits, Century students earned 1,885 credits, Pocatello students earned 847 credits and New Horizons students earned 33 credits.

Idaho created the dual credit program five years ago. Participation has grown steadily, to the point that half of the 2017 graduating class earned dual credits, compared with a third in 2014. Mike Keckler, a spokesman for the State Board of Education, said Idaho students earned 93,551 dual credits in the spring of 2017, up 158 percent from 2013.

Prior to the 2016-2017 school year, Keckler explained the state boosted funding for its Advanced Opportunities program, authorizing up to $4,125 for each Idaho student to apply toward dual credit participation and exams offering post-secondary credits. Gov. Brad Little has added $3 million toward the Advanced Opportunities program in his budget.

Keckler said the state’s rate of high school students going on to college has held static at about 45 percent. But he explained there’s a direct correlation between the amount of dual credits a student receives and the likelihood that he or she will attend college. Just 40 percent of those who take no dual credits go on to college, compared with 80 percent of students who have at least 20 dual credits, Keckler said.

“We’re building a foundation to give every high school student more options after they graduate,” said Byron Yankey, who manages the state’s College and Career Advisors program. “Kids are visiting college campuses at a higher rate than ever before. College and career fairs are better attended.”