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Cultivating a College Culture

College decision days are part of a growing trend to encourage U.S. high school students toward postsecondary plans. The National Decision Day is May 1 and TCU’s College Advising Corps (CAC) advisers help plan decision days for many of their partnering schools.

These events celebrate seniors’ hard work in their academics and applying for postsecondary programs, often with the help of counselors, AVID staff and CAC advisers. They also allow graduating seniors to announce their next steps on social media and at school, and encourage younger students to invest in their futures.

In 2017-18, advisers assisted 7,681 seniors; held 44,639 meetings with students; registered 6,292 seniors for the SAT or ACT; helped students submit 23,161 applications; helped 78% of seniors receive accepted college applications; helped seniors earn more than $82 million in aid and scholarships; and helped 58% of seniors complete FAFSA applications

Alma Mater

Sam Houston High School Valedictorian and TCU alumna Alma Luna finished her first year as an adviser at her high school alma mater with a huge celebration fit for a huge school.

Even though Luna was familiar with Sam Houston, she faced a unique challenge at the largest high school in Arlington and Tarrant County. An enrollment of 3,600 students meant long hours, endless data entry and countless meetings with students and their families.

“This year was the largest graduating class but we also had the largest number of first-generation students going to college,” Luna said. “It was a challenge, but a positive one that helped me grow professionally and personally.”

Luna brought the new tradition of a college decision day to the school, starting with a pep rally through the halls. The event ended in the cafeteria with a visit from representatives from the Taco Bell Foundation, who surprised Valedictorian Heidi Estrada with a $25,000 scholarship to attend George Washington University. Taco Bell also donated tacos for everyone in attendance.

Luna said the day could not have been possible without principal Fernando Benavides, counselor Cynthia Carter and the school’s AVID program. Top freshman, sophomores, juniors and were invited to watch the events in the hopes of sparking more interest in college and other options.

Luna graduated from Sam Houston in 2013 and was mentored by a CAC adviser – also a former graduate of the school. She entered TCU as a Community Scholar and graduated with bachelor’s degrees in Political Science and Spanish and Hispanic studies in 2017.

After graduation, she immediately applied for CAC.

“I really took the community part of my scholarship to heart and I knew that the purpose of obtaining a higher education for me was to go back into my community and serve,” Luna said.

A New Partnership

Everman’s Joe C. Bean High School decision day featured the school’s marching band, drill team and cheerleaders. Seniors walked a red carpet with friends and family while their post-secondary plans were announced. Juniors were invited to the gym to cheer on their peers and dream for next year, when they might be center-stage.

The event, which TCU CAC adviser Rebeca Moreno helped plan, celebrated a new partnership with a long history.

Cathy Sewell, Chief of Secondary Education at the district, earned her master of educational leadership degree at TCU and was recognized with the College’s Excellence in Education Award in 2012. Through the doctoral program in educational leadership, she met Melondy Doddy, Assistant Director of CAC and an Everman graduate. When an opportunity opened to partner with a new district, CAC Director Matt Burckhalter thought of Sewell first.

“TCU takes great pride in providing these college access services to students in our community,” Burckhalter said. “Our new partnership with Everman ISD has resulted this year in a record-breaking number of Everman students applying to college and completing financial aid applications.”

Though the high school is small, many students are first generation and from disadvantaged backgrounds. The first class of the Everman’s collegiate high school was set to graduate by the end of the school year with their high school diploma and associate’s degree from Tarrant County College.

Burckhalter said he strives to hire advisers who represent their schools. Moreno is bilingual and was able to connect with the nearly 50 percent Hispanic population at the school.

“Rebeca was a perfect fit, since she is a TCU graduate and went to TCC,” Sewell said. “She was instrumental in connecting students to higher education institutions, making sure FAFSA applications were complete and helping them garner scholarships.”

Moreno first worked with the early college students because they were already on the path to college. By the end of the year she helped nearly 30% more students complete FAFSA applications over the previous year.

“As an Everman graduate, I could not be prouder that the University is serving my community,” Doddy said.