Making Waves Foundation Launches AI College Advisor
by Alicia K. Gonzales
Growing its mission to expand educational opportunity, Making Waves Foundation is piloting an AI college advising technology to support more students. Developed to supplement the shortage of dedicated college advisors in public schools, this resource uses artificial intelligence and automation to deliver college access content directly to students and families.
“Through this technology, students and their families can access college admissions, financial aid, and other resources and have two-way conversations with an AI college advisor,” said Patrick O’Donnell, CEO of Making Waves Foundation.
Access to knowledge about college
O’Donnell sees this technology as building capacity at local high schools by reimagining the current college advising model, which is inherently not scalable, and helping more college-hopefuls earn their degree.
“This content distribution model will enable us to scale because it will allow us to deliver information and resources much more efficiently — we believe an AI college advisor can serve many more students at a much lower cost per student,” O’Donnell said.
In the Bay Area’s Contra Costa County, the lack of college advisors at public schools disproportionately impacts students of color, students from low-income communities, and first-generation college students.
“Every student deserves access to knowledge around college,” shared O’Donnell.
Being developed and piloted by Jon Siapno, Making Waves Foundation’s director of product innovation, the resource works through text messaging by reminding students about college admissions deadlines, providing links to online resources, and responding to common questions in five languages.
“Using AI, our goal is to make it easy to get into and afford college so anyone can access a quality education,” Siapno said.
According to Siapno, the AI college advisor is still a prototype, but it will improve as more people use it over time.
“We’re aiming to reach 400 students this year,” he said. “If we are successful, I see us serving thousands of students and families over the next five years.”
Nationally, 20% of first-generation students from low-income backgrounds graduate with a bachelor’s degree within six years. The Making Waves team estimates this is even lower for the population of students in Contra Costa County given the proportion attending colleges.
“We’re aiming to strengthen college access support where college attendance rates are very low,” said Siapno.
Making Waves Foundation has been providing educational opportunities in the Bay Area for more than 30 years — supporting Making Waves Academy, a public charter school in Richmond, and leading a college success program, which provides scholarships and coaching to support students in graduating college as quickly and with as little debt as possible.
More advising, more degrees
Because many low-income students are the first in their families to go to college, the foundation’s AI college advisor is designed to also provide resources to family members who may not know how to navigate the college admissions process. All students or family members need to do is sign up for an account.
According to Aiyana Mourtos, Making Waves Foundation’s VP of impact, the AI college advisor has the potential to allow in-person advisors to spend more time focusing on students with unique circumstances while others are helped through self-service support.
Guidance for students and families
“We will be able to provide instant guidance to students and families along the entire path to college, from exploring possibilities to transitioning to college life,” Mourtos shared.
“With an AI advisor, they don’t have to necessarily rely on a person for college information. They can reach out by text to get a direct answer or be pointed in the right direction, even from their bedroom at 10:30 p.m.,” Mourtos said.
Mourtos said the long-term vision is to provide universal access to underserved students who are still very much university eligible but aren’t quite sure if it’s a realistic possibility.
“Opening up a new window to engage with them, to figure out their options, is a key differentiator in terms of the gap we’re looking to fill,” she said.
“By helping students understand who they are and what they want, we can help them realize there’s actually a wealth of resources available to them on this journey,” Mourtos said.
To sign up, please visit Making Waves Foundation’s AI college advisor webpage.
About Making Waves Foundation
With a unique focus on college attendance and graduation, Making Waves Foundation supports historically underrepresented and underserved students in pursuing their dreams. Making Waves Academy is a public charter school in Richmond, California, educating early 1,200 students and Making Waves Foundation’s college success program, known as CAP, provides coaching, scholarships, financial literacy, and career support for more than 500 college students as well as a network for more than 600 Wave-Maker alumni.
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