Guiding Educational Pathways

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In a region where many students are the first in their family to attend college, there is one form of guidance they may learn to appreciate the most: the one they can get from advisors.

At IDEA-U, these college completion advisors aim to play a different role than at traditional universities. They focus on meeting students where they are at in both their personal and professional lives.

“We feel like our role is just to help them be the best version of themselves and fulfill their fullest potential,” said Patti Montemayor, director of IDEA-U Weslaco and college completion advisor. “We do help them with the academics side, but we are not professors, we are not reviewers. Our role is to guide them through the entire process.”

Through a partnership with Southern New Hampshire University, IDEA-U offers associate and bachelor’s degrees. The courses are offered online only and can be completed at the student’s own pace. But students are required to meet with their advisors weekly to make sure they stay on track.

Through the partnership, the degree plans are offered on a flat-rate tuition of $5,500 per year, and students can take as many credits as they can handle.

“So the process itself can be very different for every student,” Montemayor said. “Some might be more prepared for the demands of college than others. Some are coming from a traditional college setting, while others never attended college before.

“Our method is working, our coaching is working,” she added. “What sets us apart is that we have that one-on-one coaching. I make sure that if I haven’t heard from them, I do a pulse check. Maybe a text, a call — I’m still here and I’m still checking up on you and I’m sending you emails.”

The nature of online classes can be daunting to many who are not sure if they can do it completely on their own. That is part of why these students are expected to meet in person with advisors regularly and attend one of three campuses each week, which are located in Weslaco, Brownsville, and San Antonio.

IDEA-U offers a tuition-free onboarding course in which students can learn what the demands will be and see if the program fits their needs. This is where the advisors also get to see where the students are at, and what type of help they might need to get started and stay onboard.

“We don’t just bring students in and assume that they know how to use the computer, the technology,” said Monica Revuelta, a college completion advisor at IDEA-U in Brownsville. “We meet them where they are at and we provide everything they need to meet the requirements of online learning.”

Both Montemayor and Revuelta come from working at a traditional university setting. They said the biggest difference they were seeking in their new position was to have more of a one-to-one interaction with students to guide them along the way.

Each advisor has, on average, 40 to 50 students under their care. They set time aside each week to meet in person with each student and also follow up via phone, text, or email for those who have busy work and life schedules.

So far, the cohorts of the young program have been mixed, the advisors said. They have gotten IDEA alumni for whom the traditional college setting didn’t work, IDEA staff who didn’t complete a degree and are seeking one to move up in their positions, and also older professionals who are seeking a change of career.

Each student has a different responsibility load, a different schedule, and different coaching needs. But what these advisors look for is to work with what drives them to keep them on track and focused on those goals.

“A lot of the work that we do here is trying to identify your reason behind it all,” said Krystal Garza, college completion advisor in Weslaco. “We try to tie in the students’ work with the reason why. They are forced to dig a little bit deeper … it is all about tying their short-term goals to their long-term goals.”