Adviser Stands In The Gap In The Face Of Overwhelming Loss

Bailey Highsmith, a second-year CAC adviser at NCSU.

Following winter vacation in 2019, news of a student’s mother suffering from terminal cancer saddened the community at Riverside High School, a rural school located in Williamston, North Carolina.

Despite the challenges of serving as caretaker for her only parent, the student attended school, worked a job and managed the household.

“Once the situation was brought to our attention, the community rallied to make sure she had everything she needed,” shares Bailey Highsmith, a North Carolina State University adviser serving students at Riverside High School. “And I played my part by helping her get everything together for her to apply for college.”

Highsmith helped the student select colleges to apply to, and guided her as she filled out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) application.

The student’s mother passed over spring break, but thanks to the school community mobilizing around her and Highsmith’s personal diligence, the student graduated from high school in 2019 and made a successful transition to college.

“I am glad to say that she finished her first college semester without having to pay any expenses out-of-pocket,” proudly notes Highsmith.

Now in the 2019-2020 school year, 112 seniors attend the rural Martin County high school. Highsmith projects between 60 and 70 of these students will attend college.

“Right now, I can think of about 10 seniors this year who didn’t even know college was an option for them before our first meeting in August,” says Highsmith. “Others I’ve assisted with the testing and application process and without that help would probably have not gone through with applying to college at all.”

Growing up in an underserved community herself, Highsmith wishes she had a College Advising Corps adviser to support her in high school, noting that her guidance counselor just didn’t have the time to provide the additional help she needed.

“Schools and students in metropolitan areas are afforded a lot of opportunities that my students never have the chance to take advantage of,” says Highsmith. “I see so many similarities with the high school I went to and Riverside, that I think it drives me to push harder for my kids.”

Taking great pride in her work as she watches her “kids” succeed, Highsmith feels a huge responsibility for her students.

“Many of them do not know anything about college,” says the now second-year adviser. “And I want to do my best to make sure they’re prepared.”

Research shows that high school students meeting with a CAC adviser are 26% more likely to apply to three or more colleges. Students meeting with an adviser are 24% more likely to be accepted to a college or university, 13% are more likely to take the SAT or ACT, and 27% are more likely to submit the FAFSA.

In the 2018-2019 school year, College Advising Corps helped more than 150,000 high school seniors submit nearly 500,000 college applications. College Advising Corps is committed to increasing opportunity for America’s students by helping to enroll one million low-income, underrepresented high school students in postsecondary education by 2025.

Highsmith even worries about them after they have gone off to college. When her former students pop into her Riverside High office for a visit — she likens herself a doting mother hen. “When they come back to visit me they laugh because I’m still asking questions like, ‘Have you completed your FAFSA yet this year?’”