Zoe Corwin helping college applicants reach higher

Zoe Corwin

Dr. Zoe Corwin

USC Rossier research assistant professor Zoe Corwin attended a recent invitation-only White House Convening at San Diego State University. Hosted in partnership with the White House’s College Opportunity Agenda and the First Lady’s Reach Higher Initiative, the gathering brought together academic researchers, school guidance counselors, superintendents and legislators for two full days of panels and keynote presentations focusing on improving school counseling preparation, programs and practices with the goal of increasing college access for all students.

Corwin joined more than 400 participants from 32 states. California was well represented, with 70 voices discussing the unique challenges faced by the state with the worst ratio of high school counselors to students—about 900 to 1. (See also the article about the Southern California College Advising Corps in the most recent issue of Futures magazine, which describes another USC Rossier effort to address this crisis.)

“During this national meeting we talked about programs and initiatives that could be implemented at the statewide level,” says Corwin, “while also brainstorming about what goes on locally in terms of best practices and building capacity.”

As director of research for Rossier’s Pullias Center for Higher Education, Corwin is overseeing “Mission: Admission,” the college access game created in collaboration with USC’s Game Innovation Lab. Through a $3.2 million “First in the World” grant for the U.S. Department of Education, the project’s team will implement the game-based intervention in schools across California through a Web-based platform that students can access on mobile devices.

“The First in the World grant competition is a key part of President Obama’s agenda to foster innovative ideas that help keep college affordable, increase quality and improve educational outcomes for our students,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in September, when the grant was announced.

First Lady Michelle Obama’s Reach Higher initiative emerged from another call to action from President Obama. In January 2014 he proposed “an ambitious new agenda aimed at improving college value, removing barriers to innovation and competition, and ensuring that student debt remains affordable.” The initiative aims to inspire every student in America to take charge of their future by completing their education past high school, whether at a professional training program, a community college or a four-year college or university.

The San Diego session in November followed a summer White House convening at Harvard University that focused on maximizing school counselors’ impact and influence on college enrollment.

“At this West Coast session the constituencies from each state were charged with developing a commitment to improve access and support,” says Corwin.

These goals include improving school counselor preparation; developing and sustaining partnerships between university training programs and K–12 school districts; supporting professional development in districts; creating policies, practices and procedures for hiring and placement of school counselors; and strategic partnerships with donors and funders.