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Laura Seitz, Deseret News
Sambat Kim, a college access adviser with the Utah College Advising Corps, speaks with students Zayleen Coto, Sam Morales-Madrid and Jocelyn Sanders at Hunter High School in West Valley City on Thursday, Sept. 20, 2018.

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah State Board of Regents will ask lawmakers for nearly $6 million to begin the process of placing college access advisers in every public high school in the state by the 2021-22 school year.

The estimated cost of the program is approximately $7 million, nearly $6 million of that will be part of the regents' 2019 budget request to the Utah Legislature and the rest from an internal reallocation of the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education budget.

Describing the proposal as "transformative initiative," regents Chairman Harris Simmons said Utah would be the first state in the nation to have a college access adviser in every public high school, including charter schools.

"That's a really big deal," Simmons said.

As proposed, the initiative would expand the Utah College Advising Corps, which is based at the University of Utah.

Presently, there are 12 college access advisers in high schools from St. George to Salt Lake City. They help students register for and complete college entrance exams, submit college applications, apply for scholarships and financial aid.

Sandi Pershing, assistant vice president of the U.'s Office of Engagement, said the program has been in place for 10 years at the university and started with a grant from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation.

Pershing said the program not only has helped more first-generation, low-income and underrepresented students enroll in college, it connects them with campus resources so they "safely land in a first-year community."

According to Utah System of Higher Education data, students in the 12 schools with college access advisers enrolled in college at a rate of 58 percent, well above the statewide rate of 45 percent.

For every meeting with a college access adviser, students are 13 percent more likely to enroll in college, according to system statistics.

Utah Commissioner of Higher Education Dave Buhler said the system's statewide research show 86 percent of Utah parents and college students believe college is more important than it was a decade ago, yet only half feel it is accessible.

While the proposal had unanimous support, questions remain about implementation and whether full-time college advisers would have enough to do in very small schools or school districts.

Some university representatives raised concerns that some universities have campus-based initiatives to assist first-generation, low-income or underrepresented students with college advising so this might be duplicative.

Some regents questioned whether public high schools would be on board with the initiative and whether the counselors would have adequate workspace.

Most college access advisers work out of the counseling centers of the high schools, and many of them integrate into their respective high schools.

"I don’t think a lot of students understand they are University of Utah employees," Pershing said.

Buhler said the proposal envisions hiring 150 employees and one regional coordinator for every 10 advisers.

Some campus administrators questioned whether the advising programs should be based on regional universities or college campuses in close proximity to high schools and that the initiative also help connect students to all aspects of postsecondary education, including technical colleges.

"I don't think were ready for full implementation," said Regent Teresa Theurer.

But others, such as Regent Thomas Wright, said there will be time to work through the logistics, describing the passage of the initiative as "a proud moment to be a member of this board."

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Regent Patricia Jones said she learned during her previous experience as a state lawmaker that many high school counselors are overwhelmed with large caseloads and they would welcome the help of someone trained to specifically help students access college.

The Utah College Advising Corps "has a proven track record," Jones said.

Moreover, "I can think of nothing else that would help more with goals we have on board of regents," which include access, affordability and timely completion, she said.