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Better College Advising? In Michigan, There's a Bill for That

04/24/2014 02:29 pm ET | Updated Jun 24, 2014

April is college decision month, and it's bringing more than its share of anxiety this year. Applications are up at many popular colleges, which means more students were denied admission--and no is always hard to hear, no matter how hard you prepare for it. Combined with Brooke Kimbrough's very public response to being denied at The University of Michigan, and the US Supreme Court's decision on Michigan's Proposition 2, there are more than enough students throughout the state wondering if they are really ready, or welcome, at college.

A bill introduced in the Michigan Senate this week wants to make sure the answer to that question for all students is yes. Senate Bill 902 would require all new school counselors working with students in grades 6-12 to demonstrate proficiency in counseling in the college selection process. By the end of their third year on the job, counselors would have to show they've completed a course in college counseling, or pass an exam demonstrating their mastery of the key skills that are part of being a strong college counselor.

This training is important, because well-trained counselors are in the unique position of knowing both the student's interests, and the colleges that would best meet those interests. Unfortunately, not all counselors have that kind of training. Surveys show students and parents feel many school counselors lack the skills and expertise to be effective college advisers, and many counselors feel the same way-- while they would like to be more effective, they want more training.

This bill meets that need with support and flexibility. Counselors could meet this proficiency by completing a course in graduate school focused on college counseling. If no such course is offered in their program, counselors could take this course as part of the existing training they already have to complete once they earn their degree, leading to no additional out-of-pocket costs. Combined with the option of meeting the requirement by passing a proficiency exam, the bill offers many roads to reach the common destination of quality college counseling.

Best of all, the results of this training are immediate, and easy to see. Michigan counselors who have completed this course report they are able to offer more in-depth, personalized college advice to students in all grades, including advice on how to pay for college, and if college is the right path for them to take to fulfill their career goals. They also report an ability to offer this information more efficiently, creating more time to see more students, and to ask the important questions that help students make a strong college choice--increasing the chances that students will finish college with a certificate or degree, less debt, and a brighter future.

Michigan is fortunate to have a wealth of caring school counselors eager to make a difference in the lives of their students. Given the important role they play in the lives of their students, and given the increasing role postsecondary training will have on Michigan's economy, it's time to remove one of the hurdles counselors face in working with college-bound students and their families. Senate Bill 902 is the flexible, proven way to give counselors the skills they need to help Michigan students build the bright futures they deserve.